Mountains and Musings

There’s something awe-inspiring about the mountains that touches everyone universally. Standing at an overlook, I was taken aback by the green abundance and the wispy blue sky; I felt simultaneously tiny and powerful. I was tiny because the valley that spread at my feet contained thousands of people—their stories, fears, and dreams. The view rolled out into the misty mountains, made dark by the distance, and I could think of nothing but the vastness of nature. I was powerful because I could see with clarity for miles and miles, and it gave me the sense that I could control and validate everything my eyes could take it in. I had just trudged up a rocky pathway strewn with wet branches and gravel, and because my muscles had not betrayed me, I felt that I could take on the world.

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A five minute walk from our hotel in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu.

From last Tuesday night to Monday dawn, I was lucky enough to be in the Western Ghats, South India’s very own mountain range and the pride of Kerala. We traveled with our fellow interns, our co-workers Rahul and Ekta, and Ekta’s mother. It would be an understatement to say that I was woefully unprepared for the beauty. In addition to sweeping valley views and gravity-defying peaks, the terrain was lush with overflowing life. Birds of paradise decked out in all the hues of the rainbow flitted among the bounty of the earth, young coconuts and heavy bananas and pungent jackfruit. Monsoon clouds from the sea were trapped by the tall peaks and so they emptied their deluge on the landscape below. The difference was stark—as our bus wound its way up the tortuous, single-lane road, temperature changed by at least ten degrees and the hot, red dust of the valley gave way willingly to the cool breath of fresh rain. I remember wishing that I had more words at my disposal to describe everything to my family and friends back home. How many different synonyms for “green” could I conjure up to do justice to the unending vegetation that covered every square meter of the ridges and slopes? Photos could hardly show how precariously close our vehicles inched to the precipice or the tremendous vastness that left our mouths agape, as if our bodies already had the premonition that we wouldn’t be able to form coherent phrases.

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The whole crew!

To my own surprise, I felt oddly at home in these strange mountains on which I have never set foot. The hills, like the softly sloping shoulders of some gentle green giant, reminded me of the Appalachians. I recalled the vacations my family had taken to the Great Smoky Mountains and the Rockies, and I felt wonderfully familiar with all the elements that had made me fall in love with mountains in the first place. Thousands of miles and oceans apart from everything mentally comfortable, my heart still automatically grasps onto what seems known and safe. Perhaps this is the same, base instinct driving so much of what is going on in the world today: fear of the unfamiliar, whether it’s skin color or religion or politics. I skim the news and I’m saddened by what I read. Even surrounded by the most beautiful place I’ve ever been blessed to see and breath in, headlines from the past two weeks followed us until we disappeared into the protection of the mountains, where cell phone signal and Wi-Fi were too spotty to justify following world events. I let Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement and ISIS and Brexit and Turkey and Nice evaporate like the mists that perpetually swirled around Munnar, but disappeared for a few golden hours in the mornings. Or I was simply making excuses for myself.

It wasn’t easy to write this blog post, and I had wanted to keep it light. I had started off so well. But reality still looms, and no matter what I tell myself, the stories that unravel outside the microcosm of my existence cannot be ignored. As I stand on the overlook and feel tiny and powerful at the same time, I desperately grab onto what is familiar because I know I am scared, but I also want to hope and to remember that there is beauty in the familiar—India is helping me find it.

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About Tina Gao

I'm currently in the class of 2018, concentrating in Finance and Social Impact with minors in International Relations and Religious Studies. I'm delighted to be interning with Janalakshmi in Bangalore this summer!