It is 5 a.m in the morning and forcing oneself to come out of the sleeping bag at this time is always THE most difficult thing to do in an early morning trek. It was freezing outside with less than -5 degrees and everyone had to use the torch light to ensure they are putting their feet on the right place. Although, it is not comfortable to sleep in a tent and all the more inside a sleeping bag when you are doing it for the first time, but its immensely satisfying to accomplish that feat while you go on a trek. Everyone was in a hurry to get ready, some of the people skipped the nature’s call, some skipped brushing, some thought of washing their face later on, and some of the brave and smart souls just made it do with a sanitizer. The time for everyone to gather was 6:00 A.M, but with everyone scampering around, we feared we will definitely get late by at least 20 minutes.
But I believe that kind of provisioning is already done by the trek leaders as they are also fully aware of the habits of the city folks who would show a lot of passion at night while talking about waking up on time in the morning but when it’s time to actually get up in the morning, bravest of us just give up in the biting cold. Nevertheless, everyone got ready by 6:30 A.M and we took our first steps towards reaching the pass we were supposed to cross. It was very chilly and with strong winds blowing, everyone could feel the numbness on their nose-tip, ear lobes and on the exposed cheeks. Still, it felt great to be walking amongst the snow clad mountains, kicking the hardened snow on the earth’s surface while trying to maintain our balance as occasional slippery surface was tough to negotiate in the dark. You do get fruits of your labour, it is said, and becoming witness to a splendid sunrise was one such gift we could never forget in our life. The sun came out slowly at first with the sky changing its hues, from dark to reddish and then slowly and slowly it got in its full splendour rising above the mountains and showing up itself in the sky like a king taking its place on his throne. Those first rays of the sun gave a huge comfort and strength to almost all of us and everyone started picking up some pace thereafter.
And just as it happens in a normal trek, the entire group was now splintered in smaller cliques and everyone picked their own rhythm, with the trek lead ensuring no one gets left behind. I was with two other fellow trekkers, Amit from Delhi and Vikram from Dehradun. We were walking at a good pace and soon got ahead of others. After trekking for almost 2 hours we covered a good amount of distance and were closing in on a village. We could see the villagers already in the middle of their daily chores. The houses were scattered and very few people occupied those houses. A lot of villagers in the mountains have been leaving their native places to settle in more comfortable lives in the close-by towns and cities. Although they are not as pristine and tranquil as the hills that they live in currently, the daily struggles that they have to endure in the hills is a good enough reason to move on.
I saw a group of children’s playing on the trail that we were following for this trek. They were about 3, holding a small plank of wood, which they used as a bat and, the ball was quite an innovation. The ball was not a normal plastic or a rubber ball but one made of socks. Well yes socks, it was made from used socks, discarded by their original users and are now being used for some fun and recreation by kids who probably didn’t have much access to resources compared to the ones living in cities and metros. The socks were interwoven in such a skilful way, that they didn’t fall apart even after some strong hitting by one of the kid who showed a lot of good promise with his batting. As we approached them, I asked if I could bat an over. They readily agreed and handed over the bat to me. It was very difficult to hold as there was no grip on it and that’s when I realized the amazing skills of the kid who was holding and hitting with it before I got hold of it. I just faced two-three balls and gave it back to him. I felt very pleased with one shot that I played as I was not able to touch the next ball and the third one would have hit my invisible stumps (they were playing without the wickets and just handing over the bat after an over to the other).
I was carrying some chocolates with me and gave one each to everyone. They happily took it from me and the youngest one asked for one more for his sister back home, and I complied with his request. The other two, who were also seeing this, also requested more for their 5-6 siblings back home. Now, even though I was carrying 5-6 bars, it was not enough to comply with everyone’s requests, so to the other two, I gave away packets of biscuits that I was carrying with me along with the chocolate bars. They took it, smiled and started running back to their homes. We all three decided to wait for the others, realizing other would be at least 15-20 minutes away from us, and decided to have our packed lunch, that we were given in the morning.
As we finished our lunch, I saw a group of 10-12 kids coming towards us. They were accompanied by 3 of those I played with earlier. They were like from 4-10 in age and hurrying their way up the hill from their village down the valley. Amit and Vikram, looked at me and their countenance was more than enough to know what they mean. I raised my hands with a resigned look on my face while telling them that I too don’t have any idea. Well, the kids reached the place three of us were sitting at and begin demanding chocolates and biscuits. It’s always good to give someone something out of your own volition, but when someone demands it the entire charm of giving loses its sheen.
I got a little annoyed now, as whatever edible was with me, I had already shared it with that first group of three. And now except for the small packet of biscuit given to us in the morning along with our food packet, I didn’t had anything edible left. I asked Amit and Vikram, if they could part way with some of their chocolates or biscuits, and both of them were kind enough to share 4-5 chocolates and few packets of biscuits with the kids. I requested the kids to go back now, as we had given with whatever we had. But suddenly one of the youngest kids started crying as he didn’t get anything in the ensuing melee of collecting biscuits and bars and also fell down on the ground with a minor bruise. Amit picked him up immediately and cleaned his arm with the water from his bottle. He started crying, and we didn’t had anything to offer to get him to keep quiet. I requested one of the kids to share his chocolate with him, but he refused. I opened my rucksack to see if I could find something. I took out all the stuff to find at least one bar or a packet of biscuit to give to the young kid, but to no avail. As I was putting my stuff back, I was pleasantly surprised to find a pack of orange juice. I gave it to him; he at last smiled and looked happy to have something in his hands.
By that time other trekkers were also there, we requested them for a Band-Aid and put that on his bruised arm. He was quite pleased with this gesture of Vikram and passed a very cute innocent smile at him once he was done. As we all got up to leave, two of the kids started pulling my bag asking me to give some more chocolates for people back home. Even after telling them repeatedly that I don’t have anything left, they refused to budge. I got irritated now, and tried ignoring their rants to continue on the trek. Amit and Vikram also asked me to ignore and move on. But the two kids just persisted and kept asking for one more chocolate while trying to block my way to prevent me from moving forward. I lost my cool shouted at them to move aside while physically pushing one of them. They were not expecting it from me and got a little shocked and surprised while immediately retracting to let me move on.
I almost ran along with the other two to get as much far away as possible to avoid any further infraction with this group of children. We took some quick strides and within half an hour had left the village quite far from us. Amit and Vikram, both looked upset with my behaviour, even though the kids were a little annoying, but shouting and pushing them wasn’t something that even they expected me to do. I justified by saying that it was the best way to get rid of them and to pull myself out from that situation. However, they stuck to their point of me going overboard with my reaction. I also somehow deep down felt I shouldn’t have behaved that way. But bygones are bygones now and I thought of enjoying the rest of the trek, while trying to forget that incident.
It was now close to 2 hours since we were walking and felt we should be closing in on our next stop. The trek guide had told us about waiting at a place close to the river and we had reached that place now. We decided to wait for everyone and after refilling our bottles and drinking some water we put our rucksack aside and decided to soak some sun which was shining brilliantly by now. Putting my muffler on my face to avoid direct sun, I lay on my ruck sack.
We were resting for almost 15 minutes when suddenly Amit noticed two quickly moving figures at a distance. As those figures got closer, we realized they were in fact running. Now, it was almost a steep 60 degree climb and running on it was unfathomable for us. However, they were not even running slowly but in fact, they were quite fast. As they got closer, Amit looked at me and said with a surprised and frustrating look on his face, that it’s those same kids we had encountered earlier. Seems like, they still need some more chocolates and biscuits from us. I got a little pensive and aggressive at the same time while telling Amit and Vikram, that now they should repent on their earlier thoughts about my behaviour. They gave me a perplexed look and asked if we should run. The idea didn’t had much of a logic considering the fact that the kids are locals, plus very young and on top of that they can run where we can barely walk, so they catching us is a far more logical scenario than we getting away from them and thus we decided to stay put.
The two kids’ one around 9 and another of almost the same age or probably a year older were now standing in front of us panting because of the running that they had endured. I looked at them and was about to exhort them on some basic human courtesies and politeness that we should all abide by, when Vikram gestured me to stop and took the lead in questioning their sudden appearance. He asked them why they have been following us; while reinforcing the fact that we have nothing left to share with them now. The two of them looked at each other still breathing heavily and also looking a little surprised. One of the kids took out the chocolates from his pocket and returned it to Vikram, saying he doesn’t need it and his mother has asked him to return all of them. The other kid also pulled out everything from his pocket and placed it besides us. They had returned almost everything that we gave them earlier in the morning.
Now, it was our time to get surprised and feel guilty for the whole situation, especially me because I was the one who shouted at one of them. After putting everything on the ground besides us the second kid turned towards me and pulled out something from his small bag he was carrying – My Wallet.
Oh my god, I wondered, how did he get it? For a second that I thought that he might have stolen it while I was pulling out stuff from my bag but then wisely decided to ask him first. He very innocently described how he found it on the ground after we had left. He even tried to shout out to us, but we were in such a great hurry to leave that we ignored his calls. Now, I was drenched completely in icy cold guilt, I could not even face the two children’s and look them in the eye. Here are these two kids standing in front of us, who have run almost 5 kilometres uphill to ensure we get our belongings back. The wallet not only had some money but also lots of other important stuff which could have easily crippled my life for at least a month. And even after my insulting behaviour towards them, the two kids, still put all their efforts and energy to help a bunch of strangers who they would probably never even meet again.
The two of them turned and were about to run back to their homes, when I got up and ran towards them. I almost bear hugged them and my voice choked while I blurted sorry to them. I don’t know if they understood what sorry is, but I think they did understood, I am asking for forgiveness. They just smiled at me, hugged me again, waved a good bye and started running. I was crying from inside and badly wanted to hurt myself for the terrible thoughts and feeling that I allowed to develop for those kids. I also wanted to give back those chocolates, biscuits which they had left behind along with some money but hadn’t had the courage to do so. The two of them looked like true Samaritans, here to teach us some good old lessons of life which we have forgotten since a long time. They probably didn’t even knew what they had done and the impact they have created on our lives, because they are way above, all these worldly things and customs so dear to us but incomprehensible to them. These children’s are actually messengers of God and their innocence is a testimony to that fact.