The Whistle of the White Winter Night

It must have been around 7 in the morning when we finally landed in Leh, breathing out the fog that was so thick in the air, after almost four days of restless sleep and constant bouts of decision-making keeping us on our toes. With the flights getting cancelled and us being stuck at Delhi airport—not being able to make our way into Leh; having to sleep on the floor, sustaining on the stalls inside the airport (it was quite The Terminal experience), to the trek being called off by the government due to adverse weather conditions and the trek company refusing to refund our money; everything that could go wrong had already gone wrong.

But somehow, and it all did seem like a reverie considering all the parts of my body, inside and out, were quite numb from the cruel wind that was biting the flesh off my skin and it felt like I would crumble and be taken by it far far away to the high mountains, we made it to the land where the gods sweep the dry Earth with its cold winds. The clean air and a friend of mine blabbering information about the names of the various ranges of massive mountains surrounding us, the music inside my head came to a peaceful pause, which was much welcomed, given how long it had been since I lend silence an ear. I could stand there forever, to soak in the cheering flight staff (on being the first flight to have successfully made a landing in Leh in 5 days), the noisy cabbies and the red-cheeked strangers; it all seemed so unfamiliar but so warm; like a mad rush of blood to my face.

We hurriedly got into a cab and reached our hotel, which turned out to be a warm little place (but not so peaceful) with a bukhari (heater) in the middle of the reception area. If you ever lose someone in that hotel, I bet my soar hangnail, by the bukhari is where your reunion is likely to be. Anyhoo, we waited and we waited and we waited some more for our trek guide to turn up, to give us more information on what’s to be done next. He showed up at around 9 and told us that he still didn’t have too much on the government’s decision and that he would let us know as soon as he could. We decided to use this time to explore the city and city market which was basically lanes and lanes of shops – surrounded by walls of snow-capped mountains on all sides — selling silly, colourful knitted caps, extremely warm, sweat-inducing clothes and old men with prayer wheels, fatherly smiles and colourful stories, oh and dry fruits; loads and truck loads of dry fruits. Did I forget to mention the furry little dogs that have the potential to be supremely ferocious, if only they were not so cute and snuggly and couldn’t stop licking you! One little thing decided that the sleeve of my woolen jacket was a good home for him, and he was quick to claim his territory — while I was still in it! “It’s okay”, he seemed to say with his big, round eyes;” I be fairly accommodating!” I think I saw a little bit of a wink too!

After gathering essentials from the market and regretting having bought our trekking gear from Mumbai at thrice the price, we treated ourselves with some Jasmine tea, some Kahwa and some Thukpa in a quiet little café on the bustling road at the heart of the market. Even though the steam from the tea wouldn’t quit fogging my specs, I couldn’t wait long enough to clear the blurred vision before sipping on the tea and slurping down some mountain noodles; everything made doubly delicious by the warmth of the tiny café, their pretty red carpet spread across its floor and the blushed smile spread across the owner’s face AND some mountain music playing in the background! And when mountain music beckons, you got to climb some mountains to go looking for the place where this music really comes from. And so, full-bellied, we set off, to climb the nearby peaks and reach a place where the endless mountain finally broke and the skies came to view. We waited at the top till the sun surrendered its light, and then we began to make our way back down.

When we got back to the hotel, we were greeted with some delightful news. The trek was back on and we were going to walk the river! How exciting! Or so I thought. My excitement was taken over by apprehension when I looked around and noticed a room so jam-packed with people that you wouldn’t need warmers at -3 degrees; they were all going to go with us! Since the frozen river had been made inaccessible for almost 5 days, all these people who were kept from it, would be starting on the same day as we were. There goes my dream of some peaceful solitude, away from awkward conversations, in the cold winter of the Himalayas!

Thankfully, everyone dispersed and went their separate ways at separate timings which made the morning a lot more peaceful than the day before had been. We were less than 15 people in the vehicle (which is still much for my liking, but maybe I should be counting my blessings instead of complaining!) and to my surprise strangers have a LOT to say to each other, which is very intriguing to me. I spent all my time looking out the window and pretending I didn’t hear any of it, since, not surprisingly, I had nothing to say.

After maybe 3 hours, we reached a dead end from where we were to begin walking down to the tents on the frozen river. It was around a 6-7 kilometer walk on an especially slippery, narrow strip of land, with patches of smooth ice camouflaged with dirt, on the mountain, with a massive drop on one side and a wall of a combination of loose and hard rock on the other, in the dark of the night without no moon to guide our way. I finally managed to lose everyone on the trail! I FINALLY managed to get myself the walk I so desired. I didn’t know where I was headed, couldn’t find my head torch and found myself on the flattened path alone. It should be scary, but unsurprisingly and undoubtedly, it was the best hour of my life when I had no sight of, no sound of and no breath of another soul touch me, for miles to come. Heck! I did not even have sight of where I was walking or what I would walk into. It was pitch-black and my eyes took as long as it took the snow to come into view to adjust to the lack of light. Blame the imagination, but it was much like walking in space (not that I have walked in space to know any better!) for it was so dark and so quiet with a spread of stars up ahead — so close to you, you’d feel like you were walking among them — and no end in sight. It was like walking into nothingness. The thing about high mountains is that it’s dead up there, hauntingly quiet, with no crickets or cicadas to keep you distant company too. Nothing but the whistle of the night! I could walk forever for I felt as light as air itself, even with a 12 kg backpack which was supposed to wear me down with each step with my lungs not getting sufficient oxygen and my legs getting tired of trying to hold the ground in an attempt to keep upright so I don’t find myself face down in the mud!

The night was beautiful, yet so thick with drama that I couldn’t fathom her true character. Her clandestine demeanor — how she sneaked up and surrounded me in no time — I wondered, for a long long time, what she really was and what she was trying to do to me.

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Was she wicked…?
In the nest of winter,
Nyx was in the thick
Of her reign,
The army of Erebus
Hypnos, and Thanatos
In full support…

They had spread
The veins
Of their territory
In every direction,
And seized all
That belonged to Helios…

They ambushed him,
Lynched him
Nibbled at my shadow
Bit by bit
Stole it,
Cut it short
Little by little,
Inch by inch…

As they burnt the flesh of the sky,
From blue
To pink
To a dusky purple
To a much deeper hue
And spread the darkness around…

With Hades
Screaming beckons
From the gurgling Acheron —

By the cold winds,
The day retired!

Was she lonely and waiting to be formed…?

Mist from the rivers,
Prayers in the wind
The night slowly walks in on me

So thick, so light
So much, all around
Held me, guarded me,
Tickled me
It made me laugh

Paved my way,
Walked up ahead of me
One long mile at a time

So warm, so comforting,
So cold, all dark
Tripped me, lifted me,
Talked to me,
It listened to all my tales…

Amongst the high rocks
And the cold river
Maybe she sought company
And the voice
Of a troubled sound
She could help pronounce…

Maybe my dark thoughts
Deepened the color
Of the night…
Maybe that’s how
All nights are born…

Was she troubled and calling out to me…?

The darkness was purring;
In the rugged hands of winter…
Water on the road,
From the duel with the skies…
The rocks bleak whimpering,
When Boreas declared his stay…

She shivered,
In her quietude
Looking for an escape…
Serena was captured,
Into much littler
Sprinkles of light…
They now shine their brightest —
Waiting —
As a bellow, as a cry…

Or she was suspicious of my presence…?

As the chary night
Lay on its side,
Burnt — the darkness intensifies
With the dawn of caution
Slyly from over the stars
It furiously pries
On the stranger that had walked into her
Without summons…

The effrontery of the swarthy visitor
To enter her perimeter
The impudence — such nerve
With a hint of self-assured hubris
Of being licked by blistering fire…
Beckoned Boreas to serve
While she herself grew stronger and bolder
In horizontal abundance…

The beauteous purple skies
Were only a guise
Poof — disappeared in an instant
Taken over by the charred black
Painted over the dark naught
Spread across and stationed
Soundlessly and watchfully
At not too far a distance…

She watched her visitors stride
Dim down, alongside the assumed pride
Boreas’s sprinkle — my fire croaked
From within me, while the night walked
Like a hawkshaw
Under the semblance of indolence, she moped
To befriend me, to know my story,
To get me to break the walls of resistance…

She doesn’t do well at all with unanswered questions,
There is no comfort in secrets…
And so she stripped me,
Of all my secrets,
My dreary and my might
And all the other queries that the night
May have for me!

Or maybe she was a sculptor…?

Melting corners,
The hands of Nyx
Sculpting awareness,
A little to the left,
A little on the side,
A lump of gorgeous mess
Much by the jest
Of Erebus
Playfully closing every door
My internal blare
To rest…

A little damaged,
A tiny bit broken,
Cracks and all,
I learnt a thing
Or two
My solitude
As the intense quiet
Peacefully held me
Through the night…

Or maybe none of it…!
Maybe she just was, like me!
Without purpose,
Without due…
Walking alongside me
Because we were
And happened to be…
In the vicinity
Alongside each other

We were…
We just were,
And will be…!