Neither of us expected anything. We just sat in the warmth of the fire, embers making our faces glow. Surrounding us was a landscape bursting with snow capped mountains and unexplored forest.Mt. Kanchenjunga stood among the peaks, mighty and mysterious seeming close enough to touch. Then suddenly an eruption of laughter from the Sherpa tent made us lock eyes and smile. Something changed in that moment.
I had been trekking with a group of friends around Sikkim for the past month. Before I came here, I had never heard of this tiny chunk of land squished between Bhutan, China and Nepal. But after only a few weeks, I fell in love with it all. The mountains, the ruggedness, the hospitality, the curry, the tea. The people. The mix of tribes and languages was so complex yet so simple. Curiosity like that of a young child filled me everyday during my travels.
So here I was, soaking in the warmth of a dwindling bonfire, which everyone else had abandoned for the comfort of their tents. Across the flames crouched this boisterous Nepali man that fed into my curious spirit. He had led my team through torrential rain in Dzungu and blistering cold in Lachen on trails that few others had set foot on. Now he was dragging us through West Sikkim up this excruciating and exhilarating trek from Uttarey to the border of Nepal. I felt like I had reached a new level of existence, a new experience of the soul.
The flames were dancing around his face as he smiled at me. “So, how is your experience in India so far?” How could I summarize the life-changing, soul-shaping journey? I looked over across the cliff at the sun setting behind the mountain peaks, my hair blowing wildly from violent gusts of wind. It was going to storm soon.
“Eye-opening.”, I said, but it was so much more than that. He saw beyond my cliche answer. “I’ve never done anything like this before, or seen anything like this before!”, I held my hand out to the glory of the beauty around us. “And, I’ve never met anyone like you before.”, I felt in my heart. “I always craved to be in the mountains among tribes and nature. I just didn’t know where to find those mountains.”, I told him, wondering if he was hearing everything I wasn’t saying.
Ginger, garlic and chilly started seeping out deliciously from the Sherpas’ tent. “What are they cooking? We already ate dinner.”, I asked. “Frogs!” He exclaimed excitedly. I was surprised but not shocked. As our host, he was always introducing us to these exotic delicacies- yak butter tea, cow intestine, pigs feet. How bad could a bit of frog be? I agreed to try it much to his delight.
We crunched on the small morsels of meat smothered in spicy curry as darkness fell around us. Our faces were barely visible, but our conversation was like wildfire, thrilling and unpredictable. Neither of us wanted the night to end, but like I said, it was about to storm. And, storm it did. Terrifying crashes of thunder shook us to our bones and wild winds blasted our faces. We rushed to our own tents just before giant hail stones plummeted to the ground. Once safely inside, I wrapped myself tightly in my sleeping bag surrounded by snoring, exhausted friends. The hail pelted aggressively against the the thin lining of the tent, and there I lay awake dreaming of wildfire.
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Allow yourself to wonder and wander