Lin back in Delhi, I spent a day doing not much, slept in the next day as well, then made a mad dash to the mountains for a few days. Despite constant warnings to the contrary (nothing new there) based on changing weather, cold temperatures, and the difficulty of the trip, I did two short trekking days in one afternoon, hiking past Triund and Snow Line, arriving just after dark at Lahesh Caves. Around them, I should say... then spent a couple hours in the dark walking literally in circles around the actual cave before settling into one nearby. Was completely exhausted from lack of lunch by that time - tired muscles.
A steady overnight barometer sent me up to Indrahar Pass for the day - yet another exercise in trying to decipher cryptically-brief directions from the book - where I found the actual path about halfway up. It is a very old shepherd-improved path; to call it a trail would be misleading. Unlike the rock and dirt switchbacks of the NW, where they wanted to go straight up the rocky ridge, they just stacked rocks on rocks until a stairway was formed. Voile - what was once 4th- or 5th-class climbing is now a seasonal migration path. Yikes! The entire ecosystems and grass communities growing between and around the rocks gave me some confidence in their stability. (I didn't want to lose Lin's camera, so we're back to imagination and scavenged photos again...)
Beautiful up there, peeking over the crest of the Dhaula Dhar to the northern ranges of the Himalaya. An unexpectedly irregular skyline, punctuated by dramatic spires and fans above the run on conversations of ridges and peaks below. Pictures are one thing, but peaks like this hadn't existed in my visual memory before. Crazy.
A price to pay, though. What I had told myself was still exhausted muscles turned out to be a lovely fever - I spent the next day entirely in my sleeping bag and down jacket, leaving my little cave-overhang only for the five-minute trip to get water, which completely drained the energy I didn't have. Good to make time to read, to nap, to appreciate the absolute silence up there - a few birds were the only motion and sound in a valley so quiet I swear I could hear the sun moving through the sky.
Out of food, I had to head back the next day, down to McLeodganj to rest. Returned to spend the next few days hanging out with the few people I knew there, having chai, exchanging thoughts and music, comparing views of the world. Beside Tibetans, there is also a contingent of Kashmiris there, finding better business than in their state-warned-of, tourist-vacated corner of the country. Interestingly, it has been difficult to talk to women here, as they are conditioned not to talk to people on the streets in the interests of modesty. So we foreign women just chat with all the men like it's going out of style, and they don't seem to mind. I spent my days running into the same few people, Ashiq, Ali, Gul, Ram, and assorted of their friends, trying to decide if this small a town would be interesting to spend that much time in, or if it would drive me crazy. I think the latter. But entertaining to watch all the tourists come and go, I'm sure.
Instead of heading to Manali to meet Lin as planned, in the end I had to cancel my ticket and head back to Delhi. My fever was on and off getting worse, not better, and aside from being too tired to enjoy a new place, I don't have the luxury of time to be sick once back in Seattle. Ali and Ashiq bid stage-worthy adieu and helped carry my luggage to the bus - drawn-out well-wishes, promises to write, visit, etc. Next year, hopefully. For now, it's back to the big city for something more powerful than the antibiotics I had with me...