I was taking my father for a trek in the Garhwal Mountains in 2011, he had turned 60 that year and this was his birthday gift. We were to start our trek from a tiny village called Sankri in Uttarakhand. We ate an early breakfast of bread, eggs & chai and set out. The first day of a trek is always special. Spirits are high, muscles are not aching, and you’re abuzz with the excitement that you’re finally on the trail after months of planning and preparing.
This was a post-monsoon trek but given the change in the climatic conditions the world over, there had been a heavy downpour the previous night. The path leading into the forests had huge puddles of water. Heavy mist hung in the air. There were gorgeous, lush green trees on either side.
We had hardly walked a few meters outside the village when I first saw him. He was standing in the middle of the path, facing me. Tall and lanky, he had a beautiful white coat on with swirls of beige all over it. He languidly started walking towards me with a slow swagger. As he got closer, I noticed his eyes. They were the colour of melted caramel and they looked warm against the cold, damp surroundings. He had such an easy, friendly demeanour about him. I couldn’t help but smile, I think I may have let out an involuntary giggle. That was the only encouragement he needed. The swagger quickly turned into a full throttle run as he came charging towards me. He pounced on me trying to kiss my face, his entire body quivering with the sheer excitement of encountering somebody who was interested in him.
I turned to look at my father who was also smiling at the unabashed display of affection. Wow, my father approved? Super!! And just like that, I had found myself a travel companion. He walked with us every step of the way over the next week. Sometimes he led the way. He would walk ahead and look behind to ensure that I was following. If I had stopped to rest or take pictures, he would sit on the path and wait till I reached him to continue on. The only moments when he would run away from me were when he saw some noisy monkeys on the trees. He would go charging off the path, into the forests to give them a good shouting, as if asking them to stop monkeying around.
He was especially protective of me when we had to go past a landslide area. He would walk a few steps and then come back to me as I gingerly put one foot in front of the other over a path strewn with loose stones and rubble. There was another trekker slightly ahead of me; he even tried to push her aside to make space for me to pass. Not a very gentlemanly thing to do I agree, but he was so smitten by me that all social niceties were forgotten.
His smiling happy face was the first face I saw every morning as I stepped out of my tent, I’d imagine he slept right outside the entrance waiting to see me appear. I shared my food with him, a few rotis with every meal and biscuits when on the trail.
When we got back to Sankri on the last day after completing our trek, I went into the tiny lodge to leave my bags. I dreaded the moment when I would have to say bye to him. When I came out of the lodge, he was not there. I looked around the village a little bit but didn’t find him at all. I waited at dinnertime for him to appear but I was disappointed.
Just as quickly as he had bounded into my life, he had disappeared. I guess he didn’t want to go through a teary goodbye. I hope he finds kindness in the mountains, somebody who would love him the way I did. I do know that my gorgeous travel companion will forever remain free spirited and wanderlust, at home in the Himalayas… probably all the reasons why we were kindred spirits for a moment in time.