Don’t Look Down

This trek really blew up the whole concept of a study abroad. In fact, it was more of a survival abroad. The trekking was rather incredible, and I am miles away from the person who struggled on the shakedown, but my goodness was it nuts. Initially, when I heard that we would be seeing snow, I did not expect to fall waist deep into the cold ice, loose feeling in my wet toes, or come face first to the deadly dangers of the icy, steep inclines. Each step I watched as balls of ice plummet into the abyss, and I couldn’t help but think that one missed step and that could be me. “About 45 kilometers minutes left in the snow” turned out to be three hours and we were still kilometers away from an adequate water source and were debating another night of melting snow. After scoping out the terrain, the team had to decide whether to walk 2 kilometers to a large campsite with potentially no access to water, or walk over 4 kilometers to a known water source but limited camp space. Even with frozen clothes, exhausted spirits, and less than a liter of water each, we all decided to take the long way down to ensure we could stay somewhere with access to water. We all put our hands in a circle, hollered a nice “SHABASH” and picked ourselves up until we made it to the next campsite. Regardless of all of the giggles our team loves to emit during our time together, we have shown time and time again (including in our WAFA training) that our team thrives in intense situations. It was actually incredible the abilities that came out of everyone in the team even when the days were long and the treks were tough. Finally coming to camp and seeing the beautiful views made me feel proud. Anybody who saw me on the shakedown would be shocked that I was one of the voices that wanted to keep pushing. Even the most athletic people were okay taking their time to soak in the views, so it made me feel more confident to be slower. My given trail name is “Dhili” which means slow (it is very fitting). Stopping to smell the roses not only gave me the time to breathe, but it also allowed me to soak in the spectacular views. The only day I felt that the team struggled as much as me in the snow. I couldn’t help but giggle when even the strongest men slipped as I thought “finally, I am not struggling the most today.” 

Our team was really thrown into the deep end in many ways on this trip. Each hike day was entirely led by our team, not the guides. This included choosing trails, finding camp, and getting directions from non-English speaking locals. There were many times we took the wrong trail due to a scouting failure or had awkward conversations with locals where both parties couldn’t help but giggle through the confusion. We had a basic knowledge of some Hindi phrases including “Where is”, “water”, and “trail” but were unable to say phrases we needed including “Can I camp here?”, “Can we build a fire?”. Many times our team resorted to drawing little pictures of tents and playing charades. We definitely benefited from the patience given by the locals and the culture of happily welcoming strangers on their land. Not once were we faced with rejection and it allowed us to be confident and hopeful even in the face of new confusing conversation. 

I don’t think I could write about this trek without bringing up the goat situation. Our guides informed us in the middle of the trek that it may be possible to purchase a goat so that we could have meat for dinner. For some insane reason, I wanted to be the one to slaughter it (maybe one of my dumbest decisions). I wanted to do it because it is never something I have done before but something I feel like I should do at least once in my life if I were to spend the rest of my life eating meat without an inkling of how it made it to my plate. Finally, the day came and a tiny little black goat was dragged into our campsite. My mind was rather blank at this moment, my only thoughts being “Hmm I am going to kill a goat, this will be one insane story,” but my mind was unable to think of what it would actually be like to do it. Some individuals went to the market to get ingredients for our meal, and others stayed behind to watch it all happen. The guides eventually gestured for all of us to come, and Gaurav (G) put a large knife in my hand. My heart was beating out of my chest and I went completely silent. Vipul was holding the goat with a rope around the neck and they both started to urge me to do it. I was frozen, and I think I may have said “I need a minute” but a minute I did not have. G was speaking loudly behind me, “KILL IT, ALLY. KILL IT. DO IT. KILL IT” and Vipul was saying “The longer you wait the more it suffers, it knows what is happening.” Needless to say, I couldn’t f’ing do it. My entire body was against it and my mind was a blank void that couldn’t process the thought of moving my body to do that action. I said “I don’t think I can do this” and as soon as those words left my mouth, G grabbed the knife from my hand and in one fail swoop cut the little goats head right off. I gasped and instinctively turned my head away. The second I saw the head flop to the ground, I said “There was no way in fucking hell I could have done that.” For some reason I was a bit disappointed in myself, but eventually I realized I’d probably have nightmares forever. After the goat had died, Thomas Burga, Hannah and I skinned and cleaned the goat and cut the meat into smaller pieces for the guides to cook. At this point, I knew it was food and I was more interested in the learning process. It was definitely not in me to take the life of an animal, but I sure as hell can eat it. 

One of the biggest difficulties that we discussed on the trek is that many people comply with the rest of the group as they do not want to be the voice of dissent when a majority of the group seems to agree. This has happened to me many times on this trip, particularly when it comes to the involvement of our guides, Vipul and Gaurav. Our guides gave us a lot of freedom to decide how we want our trip to go, but I feel a lot of people took advantage of this and rejected several lessons they tried to propose. Many times hands were raised and our guides were asked to stop their lessons as the information was going “in one ear and out the other” or people were “too tired” and instead they wanted time to reflect and play games. Personally, I think the most valuable information we can get is from our guides who know both this culture and this course much more than we do. During my personal meeting, I brought this up to one of our guides and he explained that he sometimes felt like a failure as some of the group is not receptive to his discussions. I felt regretful that I did not speak up when the group dismissed them, and I would like to be more confident in going against the masses, even when I am out-numbered. 

I pushed myself mentally and physically on this trek, more than I ever thought I was capable of. I am extremely proud of how far I’ve come with my confidence and I found myself wishing that the trek was even longer (well, maybe if I had clean clothes and food that wasn’t pasta). Hearing the rain on my tent, the rustling of the nearby rivers, or the jingle of the bells on local horses was always something I will wish to hear at night (especially after my gossip sessions with the Medusa tent (Ramsey, Anita, and I)). I couldn’t have chosen a better tent team, as we worked spectacularly together, always had fun, and each person had the space to be honest and supported in our tent. Medusa gang forever.