You never end up where you plan in India. I should know this by now. And yet even though I keep a flashlight, toilet paper, batteries, snacks, water, first aid and a knife in my purse, I am still caught unprepared for the unexpected.
I went to a waterfall outside of town for the Spring Equinox with some students from my yoga class. The waterfall was by all accounts “just off the road.” I wore flip-flops and a flowing skirt, which is standard weekend in Rishikesh attire.
When we started up the trail to the waterfall, I anticipated a pleasant walk. I soon realized that we were in fact hiking up a very steep trail, full of loose rocks. It was very hot and the sun was boiling our backs. I began to get winded and was struggling up the trail. My students delighted at the opportunity to tell me to “keep up” for a change, since I am always pushing them physically in class. So I kept up. I tried to make a journey a physical and emotional challenge, training my subconscious to climb any mountain in front of it. I was sweating and shaking, but I continued up. The trail split into two, one section that went down into a ravine with a path about six inches wide between a sheer face and a 200 feet drop. The path itself, if you could call it that, was full of loose stones and abrupt drops. We thought for sure that could not really be a path, and continued climbing up the well-trodden wider path that wound up the mountain. We kept climbing, the incline progressively getting harder. Each step was harder and harder, and the sweat on my feet was making me slide in my flip-flops.
We passed some women in colorful saris cutting leaves from the jungle and putting them into bundles. We stopped and shared water and snacks with them and asked them what their bundles were for. We gestured our way into understanding that it was for their cows. Big smiles and a namaste later, we continued our quest for the waterfall. We emerged out of the jungle into a terraced agricultural village on the top of the mountain. I finally said to my companions that there couldn’t be a waterfall up at the top of a mountain unless it fell out of the sky. We had clearly passed it. We wondered whether that non-trail could possibly have been the real trail.
Walking down the mountain was worse. I slid half the way down, due to sweaty flip-flops and stones giving way beneath my feet. I practiced staying in the moment, trying to be extremely conscious of only thinking about the step I was currently taking. I asked God to help me not sprain my ankle, or worse, fall off the mountain. I finally made my way down to the lower path and the women I was walking with by this time appeared to me more mountain goat than human. They would leap from rock to rock, whereas I would step in the same spot and the rock would slide out from under me. About twenty feet onto the second trail I slid pretty dramatically. There was really no room to slide and I almost slipped off the mountain into the ravine. I pulled the plug. Making my excuses, I told them to go ahead without me and started back down the mountain alone. Walking down a very steep mountain sliding everywhere by myself,feeling faint, didn’t feel like a particularly bright idea either, but I went very slowly and continued to stay totally focused on the present moment.
Present moment by present moment, I made it by myself down the mountain, never seeing the waterfall. We never know what mountains we will have to climb in life. Even if we plan for one eventuality, more often than not a possibility that we never considered comes to pass. Flexibility, determination, and mindfulness are the tools we need in our “emergency kit” in our bags. And a good pair of hiking shoes wouldn’t hurt, either.