Gayatri woke up and could feel her own voice crying out , “I’m coming “. Once again, she saw the images of snow covered mountains, numbing cold and only the sound of the whining wind, beckoning her to come. It was only 3am. Knowing that sleep had deserted her, she got up and after a glass of hot chocolate, sat down to capture the details of her dreams which had become more acute over the past several weeks.
“She was walking along with two others. There was an entry through a narrow cave. She could see the others pass through a small opening and then a huge valley opening up to a sea of shining water.”
It was always with the sight of shimmering water that her dream would end. The dreams were a part of her life, embedded deep since her childhood with her grandma’s persuasive stories. She had promised her grandma during her dying days that she would become strong and visit the cold mountains and underground caves.
While growing-up her father, an army man, had encouraged her passion for mountain climbing and deep sea diving. Every year she would join the like-minded for long, difficult hikes and dives.
At 20, her athletic body and joyous mind made her a confident, outgoing and caring person. She read a lot and was an active participant in all types of social media where she had many friends following her exciting stories. And she had fond childhood memories of lots of outdoor sports and piles of reading materials. She always looked forward to the detailed story telling by her grandmother, on whose lap she would fall asleep as the stories unfolded.
The story of the pearl-eating Swans, gliding in the Mansarovar lake was her favorite. The adventure of finding these swans and hunting for the pearls was deeply embedded in her childhood memories. The heroes navigating through narrow travines, encountering uncontrollable avalanches, reaching their destination but never finding any swans.
“So, were there no swans?” queried the sleepy child.
“They were in a place where only few could reach; only the bravest would succeed;” and softly added “only those chosen ones.” She would often find grandma sadly hugging her and weeping every time at the end of the swan story.
That was then. Now the dreams had returned. The upcoming hiking event presented the probable as possible. She had scaled up her exercise routines and her yogic drills; controlling breath was so precious at that altitude as strength came from the cultivated peace of mind.
“The real hiking begins from the Mansarovar lake, following the trail of the returning mountain Elks. Some go on for a hundred miles in moving snow, steep ravines and uncharted caves for their scanty food fuel. Dad, it’s going to be my ultimate experience,” cried Gayatri, hugging her parents and proudly showing her medical fitness report.
“We wonder at your zeal and know our hearts will beat as one; its you who are mentally taking us to that cherished pilgrimage of sorts. Come back with lots of stories and just come back.” spoke the worried mother who was used to the family tradition of taking risks.
“We are ten of us. I’m the only Indian and there are three women. We will be on trail for a month and will have to carry provisions for two months on us and a few yaks. I have a Camera sponsorship; the latest in digital that has many adaptations for the environment we will be in. I’m sure you will love the pictures; and never forget me.” She laughed, to hide the fear of probably never returning to them.
They all knew but pretended to not know. The inner call had driven their families in spite of enough painful lessons. And she got into flurry of preparations; every piece of clothing and every munching had life sustaining implications. The equipments and medicines were a special team’s responsibility and they were thoroughly briefed on every item.
A special place was set aside for the grandma’s storybook; now almost stitched together, she carried it as a promise of the “descendent” and drew inspiration and strength from it. She had memorized every word and believed there was a destiny and clear direction laid out for her in those fairy tales .