A two-hour hike was not what I had in mind when we reached Rishikesh. I was exhausted from all the trains and buses we had taken since we arrived in India, but there was no convincing my friend of staying in the hotel.
Once we passed the entrance of the Neer Garh Waterfall trek I started to feel the jet lag and fatigue take over my body. My friend was in marathon mode so she immediately started running. I couldn’t keep up. After convincing her I’d be ok she disappeared into the trail. The effort I was making was such that I was doubting if I’d actually make it all the way to the top. Why didn’t I stay at the hotel? I asked myself repeatedly.
Halfway through my hike, a young man appeared behind me. He looked like he was in his early twenties, and seemed to be local. He wasn’t wearing hiking clothes or carrying a backpack. That’s weird, I thought, not even a bottle of water. He looked at me and smiled, I smiled back. He continued walking up passed me as I struggled behind in my already annoyed state of exhaustion.
A few minutes later I look up and I see him again. He had an expression of relief when he saw me appear behind some tree branches and immediately extended his hand to help me as I pulled myself up some rocks. “Thank you”, I said. He didn’t reply. “What’s your name?” I asked. Nothing. He might not speak English, I thought. “Melissa,” I said as I pointed to myself. “Adripati,” he said mimicking me. He continued guiding me up the mountain and waited for me every time I needed a rest. I tried asking him more questions but Adripati just looked at me and smiled without saying a word.
I noticed we were near the last waterfall when I heard my friend calling out my name. “Finally!”, I said and clapped my hands in an attempt to make Adripati laugh. I walked towards the bridge surrounding the waterfall and gazed at the beautiful turquoise pool that rested below my feet. The waterfall was small, but the calmness of the place was breathtaking. I started to tell my friend about Adripati and how he helped me all the way up. I turned around to introduce him but he wasn’t there.
As my friend ran towards the waterfall I saw Adripati walk away into the mountain. I called out his name and signaled him to come as I searched for a chocolate bar I had in my bag to offer him as a thank you. He smiled and waved before turning around and disappearing into the trees.
Months later it occurred to me to look up the meaning of his name: Master of the mountains.