We knew we needed to get up. For real. We needed to get out of bed right now if we were to have any hope of reaching Triund before the afternoon cloud cover set in and rendered every view of the Himalayan foothills obscure.
But our bed was, if not exceedingly comfortable, at least warm and cozy enough to convince me that leaving it before the sun rose was a terrible idea. This was backed up by the telltale headache I could feel even before opening my eyes, the product of too much Old Monk rum drank into the wee hours with Sonali and Sushant at Indique after they closed the restaurant for the night.
I slapped at my phone, eventually hitting snooze and buying us ten more minutes. But Justin is more disciplined than I am when it comes to alarm clocks and his movement elicited a groan of protest from me.
"If we want to actually see the mountains, we need to go," he whispered.
"I can see the mountains from the balcony," I argued, but I was pushing out of the sleeping bag liner I'd been cocooned in under the thin butter-yellow coverlet. I wanted to see them too.
After a granola bar breakfast and water chugged to fight the hazy residue from last night's rum, we threw everything into our day packs and started walking in the soft dawn light. We wound up the sloppy dirt roads through McCleodganj, past wandering cows and uniformed schoolchildren with their bright pink cheeks and scolding mothers. Eventually the buildings thinned and the road turned to wide path before narrowing further into a rocky trail.
Up we walked, stopping along curves to watch the cloudy mists roll in and out of the space between mountains. The green was kept from lushness by the hardscrabble rock jutting along the trail and from around jagged trees and tall grasses.
We were caught off guard the first time it happened. Walking along the steep rocky trail, watching our footing and feeling far from civilization, we reached the top of a curving precipice and found a blue-tarped hut selling bagged potato chips and steaming cups of hot masala chai for R100. We nodded hello to the dozing man leaning back in his white plastic chair and continued past, marveling to find this piece of entrepreneurial grit in the midst of our "wilderness" adventure.
But Triund is not, by any stretch "wilderness." The trail is a well-worn and frequently utilized pathway, a fact evidenced by the many sandaled goatherds and other tourists we met along the way, as well as the several chai stands we passed on our way. Like much of what we experienced in India, no resource was left untapped, be it tall mountain grass for goats and cows alike, or the rupees of the slightly more adventurous tourist.
We knew we'd reached our goal when we crested a hill to find a wide ridge dotted with blue and brown-tarped lean-tos where we could rent camping sleeping bags or small tents, or buy hot tea or a bowl of noodles for lunch. The ridge was landscaped with hikers napping on daypacks or laughing over steaming bowls and pack mules busy frustrating their guides by attempting to roll onto their backs for a good scratch before their loads were removed.
We found a grassy spot down the hill a bit, inhaled our packed lunches (we sadly hadn't believed the rumors of noodles and were traveling a few rupees shy), and dozed in the sunshine. Every few minutes the cloud cover would shift long enough for us to get a peek at the forbidding crags of this young mountain range.
We lazed about until our sweaty backs dried and our tired legs began to stiffen. We stopped at the stupa to pay our regards, laughed once more at the misbehaving mules, pet a few unimpressed cows, and began our descent back to McCleodganj. The conversation, as it always does in the second half of all hikes long or short, turned to food and what we would eat when we were down the mountain and once again jumping garbage-laden ditches and sidestepping sleeping dogs and wandering cattle and honking lorries.
Justin was inclined toward more momos and sweet and sour pishe from Gakyi while I was craving the veg fry thenthuk from Tibet Kitchen and we passed a family of monkeys munching by the trail while we debated. As we walked under rows of tattered and unbleached prayer flags, it began to drizzle and we reached out for one another's hands and smiled. Whatever we ate, it would likely be by candlelight tonight.