I now know what torture feels like. The scull is bolted from the right and left, back and front. The screws are continuously tightened while the head – perhaps the whole body (at that point you are no longer sure) – is spun around. The stomach empties itself violently a few times and then keeps on wrenching out bile. Finally I – a confirmed animal-phobe who has never been seen near a horse – is put precisely on such a beast to descend the mountain as quickly as possible. It’s called altitude sickness and it hit me at exactly 4900 m. The rest of my family was fine. They made it to the peak of 5200m.
And I cannot wait to do it again! (I am not a masochist. No!) I’ve even checked out flights for next summer already. But it’s too early, most airlines don’t book that far in advance.
We trekked for seven days. No roads, no mobile phone signals, in fact not even electricity. The only thing around us were the huge barren Ladakhian Himalaya mountains and every now and again a green oasis, almost out of nowhere, where village life is able to flourish. Temperature fluctuate between +35C and -5C. We had scorching heat and freezing snow storms. Our 14-year-old daughter started the trek with a face and an attitude as if we were intending to deprive her of her friends, Topshop and Facebook forever. By the end even she could not help but admit that it was an amazing experience.
Was it the grandiose scenery? The glimpses of Buddhist culture with its stupas, little mountain monastries and prayer flags? The incredible sharp and clear light in the thin air? All of this helped. But what I loved most was the notion of passing through an unforgiving landscape that shows so clearly that it does not care – does not rely and does not need – human life. A beautifully humbling experience. And surely a useful nihilistic experience for someone who is trying to make a living from books.