At 14,000 feet, the Samiti Lake camp on Goechala trek was a dilapidated trekkers hut. The wooden roof had rotted and caved in. Half the hut was exposed to the sky and a draft whistled in steadily from the opening. We settled down in a corner that was dark and away from the exposed sky, waiting for the night to pass quickly. It was bitterly cold. The next day we were attempting the Goechala.
I slept intermittently. Through the night a coil of cold air swirled around me. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I sat up and was surprised to see the hut awash with a gentle white luminescence that beamed down from the roof. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I noticed the foot of my sleeping bag covered in a soft mound of snow. I looked up and noticed snowdrifts falling gently from the large gap in the roof.
Somehow, at that moment this setting didn’t seem out of place.
I tapped the light on my digital watch and noticed it was 2.30 in the night. We were slotted to leave at 3.30. I had an hour to myself. I quietly got out of the sleeping bag, put on my parka and gently let myself out of the creaking door of the hut. A few heads of my teammates on the Goechala trek turned but they quickly huddled themselves back deeper into their sleeping bags.
I stepped out into a whitewashed landscape. A few inches of snow had fallen just enough to cover everything with a coat of white. On the western horizon, where the valley ended in the middle of two hills the full moon was suspended just above the horizon in a large cheese ball.
The moon cast long dark shadows on the snow. In the bright neon light of the full moon, I could single out the tiniest of pebbles. The air was still as still can be, so quiet that even my own movements seemed cacophonous.
I dug my hands deep into the pockets of my parka and made my way towards the Samiti lake, the moon behind me and my shadows leading the way. The cold had frozen the snow. My foot made a soft crunching noise as if I was treading on a thousand tiny splinters of icicles.
In the vast lunar landscape, I was alone, all alone.
As I got to the lake, Mt Pandim rose from the foot of the lake, reaching up to the sky and almost touching it, its snow-covered silhouette glistening in the night, standing out against the inky darkness of nothing behind it.
On the dark absolute still waters of Samiti, a reflection of the entire mountain stared at me. I could see every snow patch, every crag and every gully of the great mountain.
Overwhelmed at what I was seeing, for the first time in my life on a trek, tears welled up in my eyes. That night I cried for everything I loved and despaired. I wondered why I was alone.
I slowly trudged my way back to the hut, the moon in my eyes. It was almost getting to be 3.30. It was time to make a move. The vision of Mt Pandim on the waters of Samiti lake lingered in my mind.
The team gathered itself quickly. We left our backpacks behind at the hut and started on our attempt at the Goecha pass at 16,000 feet. We didn’t bring out our torches. That night the moon was our beacon.
At 4.45 when we had covered a lot of ground and reached a high point, we stopped for a while to rest. We stood looking at the Kanchenjunga range fanned out in front of us, a stone’s throw away.
To the east, a faint glimmer of light was sneaking in behind the ridges of the mountain folds. To my west, the night was still dark. The moon by now had climbed higher in the sky but was still bright enough to show us our way. Constellations sparkled in the sky.
I turned my gaze to watch the dawn inch its way towards the summits of Kanchenjunga.
From behind me, suddenly, a shooting star streaked its way through the night sky. A halo surrounded the meteor and it seemed to move in slow motion. My eyes followed the meteor until it disappeared behind the still inky darkness of Kanchenjunga.
Two minutes later another meteor moved across the sky towards the Kanchenjunga. I stood transfixed at the sight of this omen. For the second time, that night tears welled up in my eyes.
I often tell this story when we sit around a campfire on a trek. Many feel I have been extraordinarily lucky to see such sights on a trek — a moonlit mountain reflecting on the still waters of a lake and meteors that vanished behind Kanchenjunga.
What I did not tell people is that tucked away in the corners of my purse was a cutting of a newspaper article. The article dated two months earlier was a science report on how we were heading into an unusual month of meteor showers.
For the rest, all we needed was an almanac to predict the full moon night.
What you should do now
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