THE MOUNTAIN GUIDE

By Anuradha Azeemi

I had no idea what I was signing up for; not just for myself, but also for my unsuspecting family when I registered all of us for a mountain trek. It was Mount Batur, a sleeping volcano nestled in the province of Bali, in the beautiful country of Indonesia which stood majestic with its peak at 1717meters above sea level. I was informed that it would take us a maximum of 90 minutes as climb and hence it seemed like a doable task.

We started the climb from the base camp at around 3am and were scheduled to reach the top in time for sunrise and breakfast. The adrenal rush of going on this adventure in the darkness of dawn excited us. Being amateurs at mountain climbing, we did what we could to protect ourselves for the hike. I must mention here that none of us in the family are sporty or fitness experts.

I realized the folly I had committed in just about 30 minutes through the trudge. Our fitness levels were bleak for this strenuous activity, we had no knowledge of the ways of the mountain, and were absolutely clueless on what to expect in the darkness and silence of the mountain valleys. We were given torch lights and all we saw as we climbed was the space for the next foot, uphill. The pitch dark left the torchlight useless beyond our feet. I kept wondering why they did not give us more powerful torches. As I looked ahead all I could see was a trail of shimmering lights on what looked like a sloping wall before me. These were the lights from the torches of the other fellow trekkers climbing ahead of us. I could see nothing more. I tried to look behind me, except for the howl of the wind, there was nothing that I could assess.

The climb was definitely not pleasant, the sharp edged rocks, the slipping dry soil, the overgrown weeds, the winding and sudden step up of the mountain, left us often huffing and puffing for breath. Every five minutes through the climb seemed like we had walked for an hour or more. The muscles of my legs began to tremble. I guess my body did not understand why I was pushing them beyond limits.

In this absolutely miserable state of affairs, a hand clasped on to my hands firmly and began to assist me uphill and she was our young mountain guide. She had assessed our enthusiasm along side our unpreparedness and realized that we were totally stumped by the unexpected mountain challenges and that especially I amongst all needed her assistance the most lest I gave up my drive to climb.

She took charge, sat us down and told us the most important part of us that helped the climb was not the strength of the body but that of the mind. “Mind over matter can get you anywhere”, she repeated. “The most important thing that we need to conserve is our energy and breath.” She reminded. There were two profound tips she gave us in addition, first, to not get distracted and place our feet exactly on the spot where she put hers and climb up behind her. Second, was to enjoy the walk at our pace, as we had no championship to win or timeline to achieve. Her constant motivation, “We are almost there. You are doing well.” Kept pushing us to go higher and higher.

With her constantly by our side, I a complete misfit, managed to get to the top of the mountain. I looked at my family trialing behind me enjoying the triumph with equal vigor and fervor. Our mountain guide despite her own physical tiredness had immediately set out to prepare us breakfast. I could not comprehend how. The breakfast was unique; hot mashed banana sandwich and boiled eggs!

The mountain had powerful stories, the mountain guide was asthmatic, and was forced to work on this job putting her life at stake due to her husband’s eye problem rendering him unable to work. I met the fortitude of a fierce mother in her who was determined to make a living her and give the children the best of education by trekking the mountain every single day!

Then there were these vendors up on the mountain that would climb up everyday at 1am to be able to reach before us, tourists and set up little stalls of water, drinks and snacks. I could not believe the hardship they endured to make a living.

There were dogs and monkeys who were willing to co-operate with tourists for pictures and gave them wonderful entertainment in exchange for food. The animals had also found a way to make their lives easy. God’s benevolence, no one goes hungry, every person who strives is provided for, irrespective of the species.

The mountain guide then took us along the ledge and showed us to the steep crater or heart of the volcano, she informed us that the people of the village normally pushed living animals down the trench as sacrifice to appease the volcano. My heart ached in pain imagining the fear in the innocent eyes of the animals as they get pushed in the name of rituals.

It was finally time for us to descend. What struck us was that the descent is more dangerous than the climb. The path became more steep and slippery on the way down. A bigger realization struck that it was broad daylight and the path we had come was in our full view, it was extremely dangerous. It was only because of the darkness and the dimmed torchlight that we managed to climb all the way up. Had we seen the path, we would have never taken the uphill trek. The mystery of the dim torch was hence solved. The light and ability to see is not only discouraging but also distracting for the trek to all amateur enthusiasts.

The mountain guide seeing that my shoes were not made for vigorous trekking, exchanged it with mine! My eyes moistened at her benevolence. Her shoe, though torn and tattered from top had soles so strong that I saw my feet having strong grip through the uneven lava stones. My shoe in comparison though were in better condition, were completely useless for this adventure, yet I saw her manage the discomfort through the trip for my comfort and safety. We made it to the base of the mountain finally at times slipping, crawling and sliding, with each other.

Enroute was also a dog named ‘Sheru’ who seemed so amused at the misery of us humans and was seen climbing up and going down the mountain with such ease that I almost envied him. At the base of the mountain, I hugged and thanked my guide for her selfless commitment and constant clasp of hand, without which I would have surely quit my journey midway. She like my children had lovingly referred to me as ‘Amma’ (Mother) all through the climb.

As I sat in the car on the way back to my hotel after the trek, the cool breeze and pitter-patter of raindrops helped me co-relate the events of the day to the love of our beloved Murshid. He indeed was like the mountain guide for my soul.

As the mountain guide had taken up the task of getting us ill equipped tourists to the mountain peak, had my Murshid not accepted and clasped the hand of a mere amateur me knowing I was unprepared for this path?

Just as the mountain guide knew I had nothing of my own to prepare me for the climb and yet gave me her own set of equipment and shoe, did my Murshid not offer me His all to save my soul from the misery of this material world?

Just like the mountain guide pulled me uphill and supported me from slipping downhill tirelessly, did my Murshid not pull me out of the trench of negativity and supported me from slipping back into it?

Just as the mountain guide deliberately conducted the ascent in dim torch light lest we panic at the steepness of the mountain, did my Murshid not restrict the light of my sight to just His feet so that I do not loose my focus over people and things and walk undeterred on this path?

Just as the mountain guide told us to watch and follow her where she placed her foot, did my Murshid not leave a firm trail of footsteps for me to follow with His teachings?

Just as the mountain guide put her tiredness aside to serve us each time, did my Murshid not time and again put His own inconveniences and pain aside to attend to my comfort and pain?

Just as the mountain guide told us to enjoy the journey and not take this as a championship, did my Murshid not tell me time and again that this path to God is of love and joy and not that of achievement and glory?

Just as the mountain guide kept motivating us when we sat down feeling impossible to move forward, did my Murshid not keep motivating and encouraging my every attempt when I was gripped in a whirlpool of despair?

A firm clasp of hand,

A trail of footsteps to follow,

A constant whisper of conscious,

A compassionate companion,

Till we are summoned,

Before the Lord God Himself,

Our beloved Murshid,

The guide to our soul,

On this trek of life,

Now and forever.

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