I enjoy hiking. I love seeing the breath-taking view from the top of a mountain. I usually remember the views more than the struggle it takes to get there. But that wasn’t the case during our three-day trek from Sin Leh Village to Nyaung Shwe, a town near Inlay Lake. The terrain was the most challenging I’ve ever encountered. I started off each day dodging the puddles and by the end had resigned myself to walking through them, covered in mud from the journey. I got blisters and hit mental barriers, but there were also some amazing moments along the way. One, in particular, stands out.
We were trudging up a hill on the second day of our trek, slipping and sliding in a mixture of water buffalo poop, cow poop, and mud, when we heard the squelching sound of footsteps behind us. When I turned around, I saw more cows than I’ve ever seen before in one place. It was an overwhelming, surprising, and beautiful sight. A few of the cows were pulling carts loaded with baskets and passengers. Most were not. Their hooves churned the mixture of mud and water on the ground. I clung to the rocky wall of the hillside to avoid sliding into their path.
The group gathered under the shelter of a Nat house, waiting for the procession to pass. Nat houses are small structures, designed as homes for spirits. They are meant to give the spirits somewhere to live instead of the houses of locals. The rain was pouring and a nearby river was rushing loudly when we started walking again. It was getting dark but we only had 45 minutes left to our destination: the monastery. We were mostly silent the rest of the way but there was a sense of triumph in the air when we arrived. We smiled and high-fived each other, too tired to show more enthusiasm than that.
We were staying in a large room with a very elaborate shrine in the front of it. The room had been divided into sections by curtains made of bed sheets. It was easy to find our sleeping area. There were fourteen sleeping mats, each with a small pillow and a blanket folded at the foot of the bed. I have never before been so happy to lie down. The day had been one of the most challenging I’ve experienced on this trip. There had been points where the thought of taking one more step had felt impossible. But I’d made it here, to the destination, and it would not have felt the same if I had taken any other mode of transportation. I savored every bite of dinner and felt an intense sense of gratitude for the monks who had allowed us to stay here. The fact that the hike was so challenging brought into perspective the privilege of having a place to stay. For this one night at least, I did not take that for granted. After all of my hard work, that sense of gratitude was my reward. It was absolutely worth the hike. Despite the lack of a mattress, I slept very well that night.