I look up, the sweat pouring down me. I don’t think I have ever been this tired, and after the last few days that is saying something.
Hori’s face beams down at me, friendly, open, touched with a hint of concern.
“I’m fine.” I gasp, and with a look of faint disbelief he walks onwards and upwards. Weighed down with my pack, I follow him up the steep incline, the pain a repetitive unrelenting thrum in my body. In my misery and exertion I am blind to the glorious view, to the scents and sounds around me. There is only the struggle upwards.
At the top I am rewarded by several items of note, not least the cessation of an almost eternal battle against gravity. The view stretches out in front of me, the valley up towards Kyanjin, the far point of the trek upon which we are on. We are standing beside a small inn/restaurant, its existence in the middle of nowhere in the less traveled sections of the Himalayas no longer the source of bemusement it would have been before. A can of coke and two snickers bars await and are consumed with a relish I had not expected. Behind me the view is even more spectacular, mountains puncturing the sky with an indifferent elegance.
I amble about a bit, thankful to be walking without the weight of my pack, burdened only by one of my cameras. Bushes border the small building, blooms of intense red spotting their deep greenery. I take my camera to them, firing off a couple of shots, conscious of the constraints of being able to carry only so much film. I admire the flowers and lean in to smell them.
Intrigued by my hapless fits of the giggles, my companions wander over, questions in their eyes.
I turn to them, grinning broadly, all the tiredness of the day dispelled.
“They’re tied on. They’re not real!”
When I was younger I used to suffer bouts of rage and depression, often triggered by the simplest and most innocuous of things. They were not the external kind, those flashes of tempestuous temper that are brief and then forgotten, like my father’s. Nor where they the slow burning, long lasting rumbling earthquakes that were my mother’s. No, mine were the unfortunate blending of both, dark moods of unfathomable emnity, long lasting until they eventually dissipated into nothingness.
It took me a long time to learn to control them, and it wouldn’t have happened without the help of one friend, who, one day, despite warnings from colleagues, walked through the cloud of my depression and anger and obstinate iciness, stood before me and with her thumbs wiped away the furrowed lines from my brow, smoothing them into nothingness.
“I don’t like those. What’s wrong?”
With that simple act the moods were broken, their seeming control over my life undone by another’s moment of direct kindness, a gradual decline towards normality.
“And what am I?” I asked, the sun warm on my face, my body tired but able. The mountains are incredible, but like humanity everywhere, the magnificent verge on the mundane with continuous exposure.
Hori looks at me.
We are on a rest stop, half-way up a ridge, half-covered by trees, a semi-brutal ascent on another leg of the trek. Hori has been playing tunes on two blades of grass, a delightfully engaging melody from an unbelievably talented young man. In between tunes he has narrated the story of one of the incomprehensible and very long hindi songs he had been listening to the night before.
He considers for a moment longer, frowning.
“Himal baloo? Mountain bear? Why?”
“Because, Jay, himal baloo does not like going up.”
The moods still exist, occasionally swaggering into existence with their old affrontery, although they are no longer the force they once were, so rare and fleeting are their visits.
I look back sometimes, wondering what I would have turned into, without that moment. Would another have come in and, through some other act, done something similar? I don’t know.
It is difficult to describe depression, so often sumptiously adorned with despair and anger as it is. They are words that so ineffectually hint at the the utter darkness one finds oneself in. It is all-encompassing, haranguing you and insinuating itself into every facet of your existence, a sibilant subtle seductress so hard to ignore. One moment you are fine and then the next… the world is darker, scarier, grimmer place.
It is the middle of the night and it is bitterly cold. Nature calls and I slough myself of my sleeping bag, clothes and the all important down jacket donned.
It had been another glorious day, a long walk up from Sing Gompa towards Laurebina Yak, with the glittering sacred lakes of Gosainkundu beyond. We had walked through the rhododendron forests, climbing steadily in the sunlight, days of walking making the task that little bit less effortful. My pack was still heavy, stuffed with clothes, equipment, and the paraphernalia of a photographer.
Ten minutes later I was buried within my cold and wet weather gear, the mother of all hail storms savaging the world around us. Before long I was crunching over inches of hailstones, the vibrant colourful world reduced to the darkness of my hood, the atrophied grey and white of a white-out, the wind and hail pinging hard against me, bruising me with its ferocity.
I marched on, following Hori as he continued along the path, breathing more easily as, slowly and reluctantly, the hail turned to snow, the storm gentled and calmed and the world was bathed in white. The lodges of Laurebina Yak were a comfort when they came into sight, the snowfall stopping as we approached.
Inside were the welcome of a cup of hot tea and hot food, and tomorrow heralded decisions to be made about the rest of the trek, our journey through Gosainkundu towards Kathmandu in doubt with the weather so bad.
I remember the feelings of depression, in the way I remember the flavours of a favoured meal. they are distinct in an unreal way, their sharpness and subtleties lost to time, the memory remaining only of the fact that they had been sharp and subtle. This distant from it, with only the meagre ghosts of those emotions to hand, I am no longer so troubled by what once was.
There are days when I sometimes feel like I am on a familiar path, when the black moods threaten and tiredness, despair and loss threaten. There are days when I feel teary for no reason, when my anger sparks and roils ever so briefly, when I suddenly find myself with the memory of a cloud above me. And those days I push back hard, mostly succeeding, sometimes stalemating, occasionally failing.
I don’t want to walk those paths again, but like many things, once you know the way you have to guard yourself against it. I wonder often where I would be today, what road or path I would have taken without the intervention of someone special, who stepped in at just the right moment, and against such improbable odds, did the right thing, said the right words in just the right way.
I stumble outside, approaching the toilet shack which, like most of the toilets in these mountains, is a simple wooden structure perched on the edge of the mountain. The snow is deep and crisp and I have to force the door open.
When I re-emerge I notice the air is remarkably still and calm. The sky is empty, encased in a glittering curtain of eternity. The mountains are snow-covered, serene and breathtaking in the brightness of the night, a sea of white peaks that stretches off beyond my eyes’ ken.
I stand there, staring out into that vast space, looking out onto mountains beautiful beyond words, and I am completely alone, a singular witness to something indescribable, and for that single eternal moment, nothing matters more than this.