No grasp over the native language, a trek in the freezing winter with nothing other than normal running shoes to support me, and that, too, with total strangers - All these things didn't stop me from getting out of my comfort zone when I came to know that my days in Shanghai were numbered. Suddenly I wanted to experience all it had to offer. So one Friday evening, I wrapped up my work early and caught a bus to Yellow Mountain in Huangshan. With my zero direction sense and Mandarin knowledge, catching the bus itself seemed to be an achievement.
The travel group mainly consisted of European and American expatriates and I was the odd one among them. It is never easy for me to strike up a conversation in such conditions. So I spent 5-6 hours of travel time staring out of the window. But hey, no regrets! Staring out of the window of a moving vehicle is one of my favourite activities. Around midnight we reached the base point where accommodation was arranged. Here things became a bit tricky. We were supposed to share the room with one other person. The majority of the travel group came with friends or partners. I thought I was the only one alone and was feeling a bit awkward about how to ask someone if they would share a room with me. Suddenly somebody tapped me on my shoulder and asked me if I would consider sharing a room with her. I was so relieved. She was a Singaporean and was in Shanghai for work. Kindred spirits!
We got a little bit of sleep and then it was time to start climbing. Honestly, I didn't have much understanding of how difficult it was going to be. The majority of the people who were in my group were sturdy, fit and were regular trekkers. Some even went to Everest basecamps. Other than the usual aimless walking, I was not involved in any sort of physical activity at that time. So as the trekking progressed, I was always the loser who finished last. Our guide suggested going by the ropeway. But somehow I resisted. This trip itself was an expensive affair for me and I didn't want to add more to it. Also, I have always enjoyed walking. How could I give up on that?
I walked on and on. It was not easy. I slipped here and there and one time I almost fell. Everything was covered in ice and the atmosphere was completely alien for someone from a tropical country. Even the trees looked like they were sculpted in ice. It was a freezing -12C and I was almost out of my wits. A kind, fellow trekker offered me a kind of masala coffee from her flask after seeing my state. They sat with me for some time, made sure that I was okay and then carried on with their trek. One of the motivating factors for solo travelling for me is being at the receiving end of such kindness from total strangers and somehow it instils my belief in humanity every time.
Sometimes it felt like a dream or being in fairyland. It even felt like magic, you know! On the way, there were park benches covered with snow and they comforted me like a friend. I was silent for most of that climb and was travelling inwards at the same time. I was ecstatic when I was close to the summit and saw the blue mountain ranges.
I wish I had counted the stairs to the top of the mountain. I was not even able to feel my legs for quite some time. Then somebody told us that there is a gorgeous sunset point and despite the exhaustion, I went ahead to see that sunset. If it was not for such views, why I even climbed the mountain? But the truth is that view didn't matter much to me at that time. I was content with whatever I have achieved. The sheer happiness of conquering my everyday fears, making myself put my next foot forward even though I thought I would never make it, and finally reaching the summit, was inexplicable.
Sleep didn't come easily that night because of the cold and the body aches. So I woke up early morning and of course there was a sunrise point. Sunrays slowly shining on the snow-clad mountains was a view to behold. I stood there watching the sunset, smiling at all those strangers and each of us was lost in our own worlds.
Climbing down the mountain seemed to be a much more difficult task because the body was already in pain. Still, I walked slowly and steadily. There were always people to lend a hand, encouraging me to go on and offering me hot water and coffee. You know everything difficult can be achieved if we have the right people with us on the mission. Finally, we reached the base point and caught our bus back to Shanghai. I had one or two months left in Shanghai and I realized that my bag was already stuffed with a lot of unforgettable memories.