Part 2: A scary day and a dark night.
The Indian guides stepped in, and two of the trek leaders flanked me front and back, taking my hand when necessary (‘just hold it, please?’) and quickly learning to block my view before I could register the next drop. By the time we made it to the bottom of this valley, crossing a bridge with no sides to have lunch by the river, I was shocked and mortified by what was happening to me. I felt too sick to swallow any food, and there was still the other side of the mountain to climb to reach where we’d camp for the night. I knew my body was empty, but we had to walk on. One of the Indian guides, Manev, said to me, ‘For you this walk is about companionship and helping hands. How very intuitive and wise: you see, I am not the sort of person who asks for help, whatever I’m doing. I push myself hard, finding it difficult to accept help from even my closest friends. And here I was, being forced to literally hold hands with strangers.
The climb up was just as bad, with the awareness that we were getting higher with every step so obviously I would have so much further to fall as I tumbled and broke my neck. I kept hearing a friend’s voice in my ear, ‘baby steps, just watch your feet and don’t look over.’ It wasn’t always easy not to look, though, and eventually I swore at it all. ‘Feck!’ The trek leader in front of me, Dave, said, “Thank goodness for that. I was having trouble with an Irish person who didn’t swear.” I laughed and told him I’d been doing my best to behave myself. From that point on, I used expletives as ammunition to attack every next obstacle the mountain threw at me: brooks over rocks and mud, flaky clay, the large tree that had come down right across our path, hence acquiring my nickname for the week, ‘Madame Feck-feck.’
I arrived at camp in the dark (and no, I wasn’t last). I wanted to hide in my tent and cry. But I didn’t. After a coffee with a splash of brandy from my tent buddy, I wrapped up in my extra layers, donned my head torch, and went for chai. Circling the edges of chatting groups, I would hear someone refer to ‘that poor woman who was scared of heights’. I’d step forward, “That’d be me.” And another, ‘that poor thing who was crying on the way down,’ “that’d be me.” And that was when I started to make friends.
That night I could not sleep, as in literally – my eyes, my body, my brain simply would not switch off, despite me knowing that I was exhausted and needed it. Instead, the night was filled with flash after flash of all the terrible moments that had made up that fearful day, accompanied by wash after wash of adrenalin-flushed terror. Definitely my long dark night of the soul. I had wanted this trip to India to be in some way spiritually enlightening, but this sure as hell wasn’t what I’d envisioned. So I lay there and made a plan – firstly that when I got home I wouldn’t be so fiercely independent and would invite and be grateful for help in my life, and secondly, that I would make it to the village on the next day’s itinerary, then I’d head back along the road to Dharamsala. You see, I wasn’t afraid of an adventure, I just had to get off this mountain.