We got a late start, beginning the 6 km journey to Hemkund Sahib at 10 am. I didn't want to tire myself, nor did I wish to give into oh-so-tempting pessimism. So I laid down two rules which would regulate my climb:
1. Focus on breathing.
2. Never, ever looking upwards.
The former allowed me to stay undistracted; this meditation-of-sorts prevented negative thoughts from invading my mind. Thinking the hike was impossible was the last thing I wanted to dwell on.
The latter was a lesson learned from our drizzly, baggage-laden trek to Ghangria. Then, I had made the mistake of constantly looking upwards to determine how much longer I had to go. As expected, the road was long, and more uphill always greeted my hopeful eyes. This is turn disheartened me; the mind persuaded the body that it was more tired than it actually was. The mistake was in repeatedly thinking the end was near. It wasn't. I didn't want to make that mistake again.
The two-pronged approach worked. I stared down at the uneven rocks below me, thinking of only two things: my breathing and my next step. The number of breaks were few, and when we did rest, I positioned myself so that I couldn't see the road ahead, only what lay behind me. Naturally, this instilled a feeling of pride in what I'd already accomplished, rather than dread in what lay ahead. Yes, my briliance surprises me sometimes.
We made it to the top in four hours. Amongst throngs of Sikh pilgrims we downed glassfuls of piping hot chai and khichdi. We visited a glassy, ripple-less lake nearby. Apparently, Guru Gobind Singh meditated by this lake. Legend has it that the gods were so pleased with his meditation that they showered him with flower petals. Some of these grew into what is now the Valley of Flowers.
On our way down, an elderly sardar accosted us. Even though I trailed behind I caught a few snippets of the conversation he carried out with Nikhil and Ani throughout the 2.5 hours downhill. He was the manager of the Gurudwara in Ghangria. He was a staunch believer in the supremacy of his religion. This was his second trip to Hemkun in two months. He never sat down during trekking breaks. We went to his Gurudwara where he treated us to milk and biscuits. He also invited us to the community dinner, or langar, at the gurudwara later in the evening.
The night ended with the hearty langar- rice, beans, and roti, a refreshing change from the Maggis, parathas, and chowmeins of the past few days. Hemkund was the toughest hike yet. Now I'm ready for anything. Bring it.