When I reached a point 69.375 meters away from the top, I felt like licking the sweat which soaked me. I was thirsty but the snow around me looked dirty. Soil under my feet was slippery and the oxygen bit less than what my lungs expected. My muscles denied any more climbing because the path in front looked steeper than they were agreeable to. But the thoughts of the CEO of Herbnara in Pyeongchang kept me going. A founding member of Samsung, he decided to settle in the small county of Pyeongchang and do farming. But his immensely beautiful farm was devastated twice by the otherwise timid Pyeongchang river and on every occasion he came back stronger than before. We witnessed the Herbnara farm in its current form – a potpourri of the brightest flowers and herbs I have seen for long. The colourful facade of the farm hides the painful history behind it. Besides the flamboyance of the flora, a hidden trove within the Herbnara farm was the gallery dedicated to the memories of how Turkey helped Korea during the Korean war. He also paid his respect to Japan, where he learnt the virtues of profitable community work. Ask the government for support, but get it done yourself … we felt infected by his motto. He also acknowledged the power of Ayurveda, which made me feel proud.
The following photos try to capture the beauty of Herbnara farm. If they fail, it’s a failure of myself as a photographer and not of Herbnara.
When I dragged my body to the top, I ran out of my breath, but felt happy my fragile body could do something, which seemed impossible minutes back. When I got back my breath, I was so relieved that my troubles seemed so far away. As I started climbing down, I realized that the troubles had just begun. The melting snow made the descent real tricky. I slipped, tumbled, fumbled – the same fate I experienced whenever I tried to converse in Korean. Then there was this uncompromising thorn which marched right through my thick shoe and woollen socks and struck my toe forcing a loud ouch. I climbed the height on two other days after that too, but this time following a more amicable path through a greener turf.
The photo was taken when I was breathless on top of Pyeonghang!
But this trip to Korea put my ever aching body to more tests. I crouched through narrow openings created by standing stalagmites and hanging stalactites inside a natural limestone cave. Crouching would be an understatement. Literally I pulled my torso on my elbows through those slits like many of the Westerns where the thespian struggles along the ground after being shot. During several such Indiana Jones moments, my back remained obedient and ensured that the low hanging cave roof did not bruise my spine. Can’t extol the obedience of my head, though. It hit the low ceiling several times and left red marks on the pointed edges of the stalactites. Before you start thinking that this blog is getting bloody gory, let me admit that the red marks belonged to my red helmet and not to the liquid that flows through my veins and arteries. Our guide showed that many of my predecessor explorers signed the edges with their red letter too.
The team with one of the iconic stalagmites inside the cave:
The trip to the sheep farm, or should I say the wind farm, was bit testing too. The windiest place I have ever visited after Cape of Good Hope.
A sheep at the sheep farm (did you expect a tiger?). The picture does not show the wind, of course.
But the most difficult test was the Korean breakfast, lunch and dinner. A supreme exercise of the mandibles. A wave of food items would go on hitting you one after another and you would be left guessing when did the course start and when it ended. A variety of Kimchis, sashimis, meat, soups, salads, leaves, garlic, pepper, rice or noddles or both would be served with utmost care. The Korean cuisine combined with the courtesy deserves thousand bows. But I would not put my body to that suicidal test. When we finished off such a sumptuous dinner in Seoul, I was sure of left snoring at the theatre, which was planned as our last team activity. But the traditional Korean opera combined with modern narrative and extravagance was such entertaining, that there was not a single dull moment to allow me snoring. The colourful dresses, the enviable exuberance of youthful actors and the mind blowing drumbeats was a perfect parting gift from Ji-Hyun and Sunny.
50% of a typical Korean meal.
At the end of the three weeks at Pyeongchang, I can only say that life is an HSR. I did not know what the acronym stood for before joining this project. Many of my friends, who have an HSR in their country were not aware of the acronym too. So I can be forgiven. So as readers of this blog, who are still guessing what an HSR is. HSR stands for High Speed Rail, the sharp-nosed iron reptile that has changed the fortunes of many countries either way. Seven of us started as strangers on a mission to help seventeen (?) other strangers to solve an enigma. Now, after three weeks of running together, we are a team of ten good friends – India, US, Korea, Canada, Spain all under an umbrella of camaraderie. The three weeks took us from one station to another like an HSR, till we all parted on 24th evening leaving some drops of tears on all eyes. Let’s accept the reality. Life is like hopping stations, some strangers would become friends, some friends would remain strangers, some friends would stay longer, some till the end, some would say goodbye even before time permits for a hallo … the Korean sojourn reminded me the story of life. Stepaaaani, Joyee Row, Mr. Natural in Nature, Mr. Mayor of Spain, Sunny, the Lady Boss, Mr. GinSeng-in-Alcohol-for-10-years, Mr. Drummer, Jangya Mr. Jang, “Mr Kim-Mr Park- Mr Lee” … we might never meet again … but your stories would remain with my family for generations.
One of the many moments that built the team.