It took a superhuman burst of absolute will to rouse ourselves from our berths at three-thirty in the morning. As the train inched toward the Jhansi station, we stared at each other soullessly in the unforgiving light of the overheads. Could any adventure, any delight, be worth the shock of shaking off our heavy blankets and stepping down into a dark, cold, crowded railway station? If so, we couldn’t imagine it. But at this point in treks such as these, the body moves separate from the soul’s desires. This is the only way that anything ever gets accomplished. I’m not comparing myself to those who’ve summated Everest, but we experienced that same kind of disconnect that allows one to push past reason. Ah, what the hell. This was my Everest.
The cold struck us as soon as we clambered down to the platform. Spencer and Murphy burrowed into my sides and we followed Keir by instinct. Like blind rats in a maze. When we reached the Arrivals gate, Keir located our man with a sign who lifted the bags off of the children’s backs and led us outside. Where it was colder. Much colder. We followed him through the chaotic parking lot to a van and piled in.
He could have been taking us anywhere as we huddled in the van. I do remember having faith, however. Which means that I was sentient. I somehow believed that everything would be all right. And then I dozed. We reached the campsite half an hour later. The sky was black and we could see very little. Our driver walked us over to some men who draped flowered necklaces around our necks.
Where were our beds? I wanted to love the necklaces and the sheer charm of insisting on going through this ceremony before the sun rose. But I couldn’t. I resented the necklaces. I resented the sweet-faced man who offered us Chai tea, which I grabbed eagerly, cupping the mug for warmth.
The man welcomed us and gave a short speech about what we would be doing the next couple of days. He said that the staff was at our disposal. I looked around at some of the staff and wished that they were in bed. With us. We needed heat. I could feel Pat shivering beside me. I looked at him, his face impossible to read. The children stared at our host, as if he had sprung from the dirt fully-formed in front of them. “Are there any questions?” he asked.
I glanced at Pat who was staring at the ground, his flower necklace bouncing as he shook.
“Would you like anything to eat?” asked the host.
“No,” said Keir. “Our beds. We just want to go to bed.”
“Yes. Yes,” said the host, who gave us our tent numbers and shone a light at three tents at the end of a row. We thanked him and trudged off with various men carrying our bags to respective tents. Pat dipped into ours and I settled the boys into theirs.
After I zipped their flap closed, I turned on a light and saw two cots, more petals on a short table, fresh water bottles, and a small basket of toiletries.
“Don’t take off any clothing,” I said. “Let’s get you into one bed together. And pull the blankets up over your mouths.”
“We get our own tent?” mumbled Spencer.
“Cool,” said Murphy before he passed out.
I turned out their light and scuttled into my tent as quickly as I could without letting the outside air get to me. Pat was stomping around the tent.
“I can’t get warm,” he complained to no one in particular. “I’m so cold. It’s cold in this tent. It’s cold in the bed. I’m never going to be warm again. It will be impossible to thaw. I’m so fucking cold. This is unbelievable.”
“The necklaces are pretty don’t you think,” I said, hoping to distract him.
“The necklaces? That took forever. I was going into a hypothermic coma.”
“OK, look. Let’s get in bed. How about I get into your bed with you?”
“No. You’re ass is permanently frozen. It’s lethal.”
“Pat, just get into bed. You will thaw out eventually,” I said, burrowing under my own covers.
“Why, why, why are we in a tent?”
“Because it’s fun. Now go to sleep.”
“Fun?” he said, pulling down his covers and climbing into his cot. He pulled them over his head and turned away from me as if I was the problem.
Miraculously, we slept. Long and hard. I woke up in a tent illuminated the by sun outside, listening to the boys chattering next door.
“Come in and snuggle,” I demanded through our cloth walls.
“Mom wants to snuggle,” I heard Spencer say, resignedly.
“We’re coming,” yelled Murphy.
Seconds later, I heard our tent unzip. Pat wasn’t moving and hadn’t shifted position since he had collapsed in the night. The boys piled in. I pulled open my covers, feeling a chilly blast before they snuggled in. Covers back. Ahh.
Pat rolled over, pulled the covers from over his head, and opened his eyes. “Hi guys,” he mumbled. “What’s it like out there?”
“Great,” they chirped, falling out of my bed having assessed that that was enough snuggling.
“We’re going out. There’s a volleyball net,” said Spence.
They tumbled out and Pat and I lay on our cots, enjoying the warmth and listening to the boys and Zoe outside. When we finally emerged from the tent, the campground was warm and sunny. The night before seemed like it had happened somewhere else or, perhaps, had never happened. Near the edge of a path leading down to the Betwa river, we saw a canopy covering chairs, tables, and a high table covered in a white table cloth and set with several serving trays. Indian gentleman carried out breakfast and our kindly host beckoned us over.
As we walked along a path to our al fresco breakfast, we stopped to read a sign printed in stones, “Touch the Sky.”
“Worth it?” I said to Pat, grabbing his hand.
“It always is,” he said.
And that was before we discovered that, aside from the staff, we were again the only people there.
|Pat and the boys on the Betwa River|
|Nightfall at the campground|
|Boys in necklaces|
|Our genial host teaches the kids how to play Carrom|