A hill can be a babysitter,
rubbing eucalyptus oil
on our belly bruises as
the winter chill leaves her abloom.
A playful child, cupping
the rain off giant leaves,
calling to attention our tired gaze.
A mother, drawing us
closer to the floral stretch-marks
of the summer in her womb.
Or a prostitute, with parts of her
stolen by the rich and desperate,
who put their priorities
before hers in strange
and ugly ways.
I used to think that trekking, as far as men were concerned, was either a display of machismo or a fetish for masochism. I could not fathom why people would want to conquer grueling terrains. Unless they were chased by zombies on amphetamines. Of course I could not have known since I had never tried it out at that point.
I was probably jealous that I lacked the physical structure to scale anything taller than a medium-sized anthill. Or that, back then, I never had the time to spend outside the four walls of offices and rented homes.
Over the past three years, I have done some trekking in southern India; the longest of which was an 8-hour border walk, with armed forest guards and a French couple, around the Thekkady forest. The most strenuous was a 5-hour uphill climb in Megamalai, with a kind local to ensure that I don’t die in a comical fashion – like I almost did during the Gaur incident in Kodaikanal.
I still think there is an inconspicuous element of machismo to men and trekking. I don’t subscribe to this, but I cannot explain the primal scream that escapes my lungs at times. Men can slip into this half-Mowgli half-Tarzan mode without their knowledge. We will ignore pain to appear more experienced and avoid asking for directions because we are men. But the hills, she will always be a tall and benevolent woman to me.
Every trek through her parts has been mesmeric, more so the solo ones when it was easier to be in awe of the elements of nature. And celebrate the insignificance of man in relation to the inherent beauty of our planet. Maybe a moment of stillness I shared with a falling leaf. A wild animal or a bird that I locked eyes with, experiencing ecstasy or fear – both of which left a similar taste on my tongue. And the way the hills and mountains unfolded, nakedly and gently.
Machismo doesn’t stand a chance against even a blade of grass. Or a cobblestone in a drying stream. It’s not that the maternal side of nature is a vengeful force looking to put us in place. It’s just that things don’t end up well for any species that overplays the cards it has been dealt with in the evolutionary process.
In the words of Atticus Finch, “love her but leave her wild”.
(Photographs – Kodaikanal, Megamalai, Vaparai, Masinagudi, Thekkady, & Chittoor)