After spending eight hours in a traveler full of moody teenagers, I stepped out and felt the wind blowing and the sun shining directly into my eyes. It felt as though I had come back to life. “This is just the beginning,” I reminded myself as I walked to the back of the vehicle to put on a massive hiking bag.
As I scanned the area around me, I saw an unfamiliar man, dressed in hiking gear, standing next to the chaperons. “Let’s go children!” he yelled excitedly as he pointed towards the cars, which took us to the base camp. “You guys can sit on the roof of the car, but no more than four,” he said while noticing the shock on our faces for not having reached camp yet.
After another thirty-minute ride, we finally reached our first campsite. “Come on everybody! Gather around!” I heard the same voice shouting: “I am Vijay and this is the rest of the team, which will be helping you reach Har Ki Dun.” He introduced each member of his team. He talked to us about the campsite and how we were supposed to respect the environment. Before dismissing us, he made sure we all knew how to properly pitch a tent.
The next morning began with his loud call for tea: “Chai is ready! Everyone come and get some!” And without failure, Vijay managed to do this for the rest of the week. It became our wake up call.
Throughout the trek, Vijay was very eager to learn about us. On the second day of the hike, he called me Chhaya, a girl who was unable to come due to health issues. Shocked by the fact that he knew someone who wasn’t even present there, I asked him, “How do you know who she is?” Vijay replied by saying that it was one of the few Indian names he read on the list, so he thought it was me.
Vijay never refused to help us. “Let me see what the problem is,” he said as one of us struggled with our backpacks. He constantly reminded us to keep drinking water and stopped at several spots so that everyone could catch their breaths.
“We need to stay together as a group,” Vijay said when a couple of students were left behind. Not once did he neglect the absence of a group member.
While relishing the fact that we had finally reached the top, I fell into a bush of thorns. My lower leg was filled with splinters and I could barely walk; however, I managed to make it through the day. The next evening, my injury was at some ease. As one of the chaperones bandaged my leg, Vijay said, “ You should have worn long socks. If you didn’t have them, you should have asked one of your friends or teachers. Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” For the next twenty minutes, he walked right behind me, making sure that no further damage occurred. He also tried to distract me from thinking about the pain by talking about his life in the mountains.
“Mountains are my life,” Vijay said. In 2009, he went for his first hike and ever since, he hasn’t left the wild. “After my post-graduation, I decided to go on an adventure and after that, I couldn’t imagine living away from it,” he added.
Vijay was born and brought up in a town near Dehradun. His family believes that going on treks wouldn’t earn him any money. “My brother works for an IT firm and he keeps calling me to join work with him. My family says that there is no point in hiking in the mountains. This won’t make me money.” he said. Regardless of his family’s reaction, Vijay continues to explore the mountains and believes that he is the most enthusiastic and risk-taking person in his entire family.
As Vijay spoke about a couple of his expeditions he mentioned, “I have been to the Black Peak [Kalanag] thrice. It is almost 6300 meters high. The third time I climbed it, it was a disaster. On the fifth day, we ran out of food so a man, from a nearby village, hiked for six hours to get us some lunch. Then a couple of days later, the American man who was hiking with us started running out of breath and died on the spot. His body just lay there. We quickly made a stretcher with our tents and brought him down. He was completely over.”
Vijay has completed the Har Ki Dun trek several times. He considers it to have some of the most beautiful views. “I continue to come to Har Ki Dun because of its beauty. It is a wonderful hike up this mountain,” he said.
Several companies around India sponsor Vijay to go on a hike with a group of strangers who are assigned to him. “Sometimes, I reject the proposal if I don’t feel like going to a certain place. The company pays me according to the location and elevation of the mountain,” he said.
After spending nine years of his life in the wild, Vijay has no desire to return back to the plains anytime soon. “After this trek, I am headed to Manali,” he said as he brought our conversation to an end. By this time I had completely forgotten about my sore leg and thus, he asked me to keep going while he waited for a couple of people who were behind us.
Photo courtesy of students on the Har Ki Dun hike
Edited by Aarti Malhotra