On my birthday this year, I went to India, to go to Rishikesh and the Himalayas. If you don’t know Rishikesh, it lies on the banks of the River Ganges where the river finally twists its way out of the foothills of the Himalayas before feeding the plains of India. This is a very important place for many Indians of different faiths and it’s a place where on Krista’s first world bike ride she spent a lot of time. Rishikesh proved to be a very influential and spirit fuelling place. Krista often told me it was her favourite place in India and she’d show me one day.
One year on from her passing I knew I wanted to be somewhere special and somewhere I’d not been before, a place I could try to connect with a part of Krista’s life I’d not seen. Last year she took me to Tenterfield on my birthday a place not so far from where we lived in NSW Australia, where we walked in the reddening autumn forests, Krista said she was starting to feel better. A week later she was gone, she left her body 150m below a waterfall, my heartbreak has not left me for a moment. We gathered for Krista’s funeral exactly a year ago today, personally, I know losing Krista is the hardest experience I will face in my life, from this I can find strength in the feeling that things can and will only become easier.
So pushing myself to step out of my comfort zone alone into the world and travel has been a great builder of faith, I’ve done a couple of things now that have been a big positive distraction and have lifted me. I learnt to Ski in March, spending a week in the Austrian Alps and the charity football match I played in this weekend with Tottenham Hotspurs legends has been a source of focus, training with the lads and enjoying the team spirit again. Playing sport and doing exercise have always been a great boost in my life and I’m sure I’ll also find the joy of playing music again soon, that’s proving a little bit more emotional.
As for even communicating emotions such as these, that’s been the hardest, it doesn’t get any easier and to express these deep feelings in words in public is………… Well, I don’t know, maybe I’ve done it here, as hard as it is at this poignant time!
I don’t write this for pity’s sake or to pull at the heartstrings of others, but just because I should probably try to express, so you know I am still alive and kicking and not just the football. Above all, this time is a big deal for me I feel I must speak to honour the love Krista and I share and to respect my emotions.
Anyway, one thing I do know is that mountains make me smile and feel as alive as ever, I think I gained this from our bike ride from England to Pakistan, we spent a lot of time at altitude high in the mountains. At home I can easily lie in bed in a morose state till 10 am! But in the mountains I clearly feel excited to wake up in the morning before the sun rises to see them and I don’t want to sleep till it’s too dark to see them, it’s like spending the day with Krista and getting lost in her eyes.
An old friend I bumped into the other day told me she wanted to see some photos of India it was her chance of travelling there. So here are some words to explain the photos and what I was doing in India………….. To the mountains!
I arrived at Delhi airport via Istanbul, exchanged currency and got my bag before taking the metro to New Delhi train station. When I made my way outside the sun was up and it was already hot, at only 6 am with that pre-monsoon sweat in the air.
Dodging through the traffic consisting of 6 lanes of cycle rickshaws, vikrams, ox-an carts, cycles and taxis crawling along, I trudged over to the train station and joined the cues hustling towards their platforms. Once there, it was all quite calm and I found my name on the passenger list along with a seat number in an air-conditioned carriage, what a relief.
The train to Hardwar took 5-7 hours and luckily I was woken up as the train pulled in. So as I stepped off the train I was hassled by 50 or more taxi drivers and hotel workers offering their service, I wiped the sleep from my eyes and got my bearings finally remembering the last next leg of the journey was to get a ride to Rishikesh, an hour by road. I took the offer of a bloke who’d been following me offering help since I came through the train station. I wasn’t sure if I’d negotiated a good price, but had to trust I’d get to where I was hoping.
I recognised Rishikesh from the photos I’d seen and walked over Ram Jula bridge dodging the motorbikes and their incessant horn blasting. Meandering through the streets, stepping over the cow shit and around the lazy beasts that wondered right through the bazar I eventually found the guesthouse I’d booked.
Rishikesh didn’t seem quite so peaceful at first with the constant beeping of motorbike horns but that was probably since I was so tired. So it took me a day or two longer to plan my trip north into the Himalayas than I expected. In that time I walked around Parmath Niketan Ashram where Krista stayed during her time in Rishikesh in fact I planned that well, It was right next door to where I was staying. The heat soon had me down by the riverside dipping in and out of the Ganges, its waters nice and cooling flowing from the mountains and glaciers high above. That’s where I wanted to go to spread some of Krista’s ashes, high up stream where the waters at its purest melting from the mountains, I wanted to be there to honour Krista on the day a year after she passed away.
However, everyone I asked in Rishikesh told me I was too early in the year to get close to the source of the Ganges, that the valley of the flowers where I’d hoped to go was closed till mid May and that the temples in Badrinath and Kedanarth where closed. Also the villages deep in the mountains near the glacial melt that forms the mighty Ganges River were still deep in snow. So I decided to take a bus as for north as I could and get off at Joshimat, from there a road went up to a ski resort where I could trek up into the mountains and be sure of an almighty mountain view.
So I got up early to catch the bus to Joshimat, passing the Ghats, it was still dark at 5am. There were different people around the bazar opening there shops and setting up for the day, I nearly got run down by a heard of mules as their owner Gee-ed them along. I crossed the bridge but there were no vikrams so I walked for 15 minutes till a driver passed and picked me up. At the bus stand I found the bus without too much hassle.
10 bumpy sickening hours later after weaving through the mountains and stopping to pick up every village and town person north of Rishikesh we completed the 265km drive and arrived at Auli, not bad for £4. On the bus were a Russian guy and Nepalese lad who both spoke English, they came up to Auli with me and we found some cheap and woeful accommodation!
The hovel I stayed in turned out an amazing view to wake up to. The silvery silhouettes I saw in the distance before I went to sleep were actually mountains; the cloud had obscured mostly all the mountains when I’d arrived the afternoon before. Brilliant big mountains piercing the sky, I was so happy the bus ride had been worth it.
A beautiful clear sky came into colour as I walked upwards and found the Temple, flags and bells and a lone cheerful worshiper singing his mantras. I walked around for a few hours and found some better accommodation….. well at least I thought so. Later on when I wanted a shower, there was none of the hot water I been promised; I knew I should have checked for my self! But it had a very special view of Nanda Devi Mountain and that was the reason to go there.
When I met up with the two guys from the bus they’d arranged a guide and some mules to take them up the mountain to a place where there was enough snow to ski, looking around it was clear that there was never going to be a place to ski. But there was a third steed so I jumped on and rode up the mountain through the deodar forest, they took us to their ski run which was all of 100 meters!
So while they had ski lessons I looked around and started to be tempted by the top, I could see a possible route following a ridge and said my goodbye to the others.
I edged my way upwards to the mountaintop walking over the snowfields, trying to cross where they were not too large. The locals called the mountain Gorson.
At the top I found a place for some of Krista’s ashes, a tall cairn that marked the summit which was hollowed out like it had a belly, with a red flag wrapped around a stick the belly that opened to the view of the mighty Himalayas was made for it looking north toward Tibet about 100miles away.
I took out of my pocket three wild flowers I’d picked and from my bag the pot containing some of Krista’s ashes and poured a heart shape around them. I held out my hand full for ashes and let the wind blew through them sprinkling them onto the cairn.
12 months on I’d found the thing I wanted to do on this day and so as first light filled the sky I began to climb the mountain again where yesterday I poured Krista’s ashes into a heart. Himalayan flowers I took from the forest attached to my bag I felt my heart pounding through the still morning silence only the chirp of the birds to be heard. I needed this day to myself and the mountains gave it.
I picked my route well and kicked footsteps into the frozen snow focussed not to slip, but reach the top safely after four hours of pounding up hill. The cairn held the heart and I placed the flowers and lit candles to make my ceremony. It was ok, I felt calm and sure of my actions. But when the clouds came they threatened to engulf me so I made my way down below the peak and found a hiding place where I sheltered out of the wind. On the final decent my emotions caught me and toiled with my mind and sorry heart making me sob my eyes dry.
That evening I made some friends at the rest house who had a arranged a lift back to Rishikesh the next day, they needed extra passengers to share the cost so I jumped in with them and went by car back to the holy river.
Down at the Ghat near Parmath Niketan I bathed in the river. At sunset I poured ashes amongst the flowers I’d brought and waited till it was dark. With the incense stick burning when it was dark enough I lit the wax and butter wick and let the flowers float down stream their latten flickering all the way to the bend in the river. The hardest moment came when I took a hand full of ashes and held my hand in the water, opening my palm watching the cloud of grey colour the water was like knowingly letting go of Krista’s hand for the last time.