Mountains, Glaciers and Mules   // jeff

No one said a word as we walked through the forest. The light from the exceptionally bright moon casting shadows on the ground in front of us, illuminating the snow covered peaks surrounding us. As we near a gate across the trail the pace slows, one by one we inch around the side of the gate and continue slowly between the buildings and make-shift tents on either side of the trail. As the building sink into the semi-darkness behind us the tension dissolves. We’d passed the forest service checkpoint. Short-breathed conversations broke out as we ascended the trail into a Himalayan wonderland; the peaks rising up even higher, blazing orange in the dawn light – hours before that same light would reach us at the bottom of the valley.

Frozen wonderland

We arrived at the dharamshala before many of the pilgrims had even awoken, and are greeted with chai and porridge, both steaming. The quiet and peacefulness of the wide alpine meadow spread out before us, the sun pouring down and warming us, drying the sweat from our clothes. Gina nips away for an early morning nap in an unused room while we laugh and joke, now warm both inside and out. Her ashen face reappearing a short while later. Something clearly wrong.


The warmth of the tent had become oppressive. The reason for the black plastic on the outside of the tent now very clear. A very sick Gina is still buried under her blanket and mine, sleeping soundly. I venture out into the fresh air and am greeted by the Baba, lunch is ready. I eat dal and chapati under the guise of Shivling and Bagirathi, listening to another traveler conversing about devotees and babas, meditation and yoga.

Gina’s pace had slowed to nearly the equivalent of the glacier that had just come into view, only a kilometer away. Her color wasn’t far off the glacier’s either. Sitting down on a rock, silently suffering for a few moments, she agreed that it was time for a full (and hasty) retreat, her stomach standing in between us and the source of the holy river Ganga. The glacier would have to wait for another trip.

Gaumukh glacier and Shivling

Gina’s mule trotted down the trail, dangerously close to the edge. The look on her face somewhere between pain and terror. “My mule had spark” she would later comment, though right now it doesn’t look as if she is appreciating this spark. Slowly (though not as slowly as if Gina had been forced to walk), we make our way down the steep trail – the mule driver now holding the rope around the neck of Gina’s mule to make sure he maintains a consistent pace. Gina’s expression becoming softer with each step closer to the bed that waits for her at the end of the trail.

This is the last way we imagined passing the forest service check post when we ascended in the moonlight, Gina sick and sitting on a mule, me walking right up to the officer, a play-dumb smile on my face. A tongue lashing and our passport details carefully scrawled on a scrap of paper later we were allowed to pass. Rest for Gina is now nearly in sight.

UPDATE: It’s now been nearly a week since we got down out of the mountains and Gina is doing much better. 🙂

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