There is something about the nature of the hills and the mountains that has drawn me to them over the years. I am not sure how this happened. My first remembrance of such feelings was when I would visit my aunt and her family in the hills of the Western Ghats in Kerala. From the front porch of their house, in what was then the little village of Dhoni, one could see a hilltop that was untouched by development. We, the children that we were, made one or two explorations into the hills, trying to follow the informal trails that other like-minded people had created over time.
Years later, I still feel like reliving that feeling, and that moment in time, but the world has probably changed in the meantime for the people of Dhoni and Palakkad. Also near my aunt’s house was another forested hilltop which was a part of the forest reserve lands of the State of Kerala. I never made it there, but it has always been a part of my imagination. I am not sure exactly what lay there, and what remains now.
It was only as a graduate student that I was finally able to actually respond to the call of the hills. We were able to drive from the university to the Bear Mountain area in New York State for day hikes. About four or five miles of hiking and we would be completely exhausted because we were completely out of shape. But it felt really great, especially relaxing with a bottle or two of beer after the whole effort.
And then there was the downhill skiing that I discovered when in graduate school. When you are standing on top of the mountain – with the wide open snow-covered slopes lined with evergreens in front of you, with a panoramic view of the landscape all around, with the little chalet that is your destination way, way, down below you, you are in a kind of heaven on earth. As you prepare to launch yourself off the flat top and on to the slope, you take a measure of the nature of the challenge, and the slope that you are about the conquer. As you start your way down the hill, the exhilaration increases to the next level. You have a smile on your face and you are whooping with happiness as you speed downhill (carefully!) – even as the icy cold wind blows across your face and freezes the tears that flow from your eyes.
I ski very rarely these years – there is a chance that the joints will not take the pounding. But I am absolutely certain that if I were to get to the top of that hill on my skis the feeling of happiness will be renewed instantly, even if it is for a short while. It would be as if I was experiencing all of the thrill of skiing, and of the mountaintop, once again for the first time.
I was diagnosed with CAD many years ago, and at that time I had to undergo a couple of procedures to address the problem. A good friend from childhood called me then to chat and cheer me up. We were talking about possible restrictions on my lifestyle in the future, and he mentioned, somewhat jokingly, that perhaps I would not be able to climb mountains like the Himalayas in the future. My response was – why not?! My response was not based on reality, but even if I do not make it to the Himalayas themselves, there are plenty of other doable challenges all over the world.
Meanwhile, the mountains continue to call. Every time I see a picture of a mountain, I wonder if there is a way to get to the top. (And I mean get to the top on foot! Driving a car to the top of a mountain, however high the mountain may be, is not as much fun!) And every single time I go to a national park, I get the urge to see and experience that trail in the park that can lead to the top of its highest peak. Of course, that does not happen most of the time these days due to many reasons. And even I know the risks of trying to tackle a trail like the Angel’s Landing Trail in Zion National Park. (I do have a natural fear (perhaps healthy) of narrow open spaces at great heights. My knees get weak even looking at the pictures!)
But the good thing is that I am still able to hike today. And I can walk a trail, and climb the hills, for miles and miles – to get to the highest destination, that mountain top where my expansive view of the world awaits.
I have to continue to answer the call of the mountaintop until I am physically unable.