Evening at Maráhni
|At the edge of the tree line|
We crossed numerous streams flowing across our path here, indicating that further up there was still some melting snow which had retreated only recently from the soft ground we were walking on. The grass was tender and fresh. It was the first flush of new growth that the herds of sheep hadn’t reached yet.
The air got noticeably chillier as we scaled up higher and the day dipped lower. Finally, cresting a wide mound, we saw an uninhabited stone hut in the middle of a vast rolling meadow that sloped upwards. Now that the forest was below us, we had an unimpeded view of lofty mountain peaks to the north, east and south, while to the west rose the gentle slope of the ‘Maráhni top’, the peak of the mountain that we had been climbing since we left Pekhri yesterday. We had at last reached our destination, the alpine meadow of Maráhni at 3700m.
|Camp site at Maráhni|
|The last of the sunlight|
When I got back to camp, darkness was closing in fast. I was treated once again to a steaming cup of tea and some pakorás (potato fritters). This was soon followed by a dinner of curried black-eyed beans, steamed rice and kheer (rice-pudding). The abandoned stone hut had provided the team with a sheltered place to cook today which explained the extra-special meal and dessert. But the variety of foods that we were treated to every day of the trek was solely due to the capacity of these hardy folk to carry incredibly heavy loads over this difficult terrain. They had carried all the rice, the flour, the lentils, the sugar, the tea, the ghee and the vegetables to this 3700m high meadow on their backs to ensure we ate well on our trek.
The temperatures were frigid at this altitude. The cold cut one right to the bone. When we emerged from our dinner in the stone hut, a bright half-moon had risen and the snows that glowed like embers a couple of hours ago now shone pale ghostly silver. The mountains looked paler and more far away, but every crevasse and ridge was as clearly visible as during the day. Just that the world was now in monochrome.
That night, a campfire was built near the campsite. As we sat round, the flames warmed our hands and faces, even though our backs were still freezing cold. “Tonight at the highest point of our trek, we shall all sing and dance”, declared the guides. And so, the empty food containers were converted to drums. Songs rang out lustily to Bholánáth or Shiva, the God of Gods, the ascetic with the ash-smeared body and the matted locks, who lives in the Himalayas. There were others too, like the ones about Künjüwá, the mountain lad with whom a local village girl had fallen in love. Künjüwá was now hunted by her clan for the crime and men in the village waited with their guns loaded. The girl pined for him and wept everyday at the river while doing the washing, for a button was the only thing she had left to remind her of him.
The songs rang out late into the night until the flames died down.There is something quite comforting about sitting around a camp fire under a sky of stars, surrounded by snow peaks glowing in the moonlight. Certainly not your everyday end to the day.