uleh. The word hails from Ladakh, a region of Northern India known for its sweeping views of the Himalayas and breathtaking beauty. I set out for Ladakh with the hopes of scaling Stok Kangri, a favorite amongst amateur climbers looking to break 20,000 feet. My 25th birthday was later that month, and I wanted a challenge.

Stok Kangri was far more than I bargained for. From the altitude sickness and arduous climbing to navigating tactical decisions across a group of 15 Indians speaking at least five different dialects, the challenge was daunting. During the final push our guide told us to turn back due to worsening weather conditions. A spirited debate ensued at 19,000 feet, as we stood roped up, unsure of whether to make the push or turn back.

Juleh is technically a simple greeting, but it contains multitudes. It is how you salute a fellow wanderer, instilling in them the strength and fortitude needed to push on. It is what you say to acknowledge the frustration and wonders of exploring the natural world alongside friends, strangers, animals, and whatever else shares your path. Juleh is a call to keep going, to push onwards, to hold strong.

So onwards we went, up the final ascent and into the snowy downpour. The summit was bittersweet for some – you couldn’t see 10 feet out, let alone take in the panoramic view as promised. I was overcome by a feeling of pure bliss – the kind I’ve only felt when pushing myself beyond preconceived limits. As we ascended, I repeated a chant that I had learned as a child in elementary school: “I am the bubble, make me the sea.” Surrounded by a sea of snow, I felt a part of all that was and all that ever will be.

15 days later I moved to Mumbai and settled into my grandmother’s house. A large motivation for coming to India was to get to know my roots, to better understand the world my parents come from and the culture that, until now, I had only been distantly acquainted with. My grandmother’s short-term memory was nearly gone, but we still managed to exchange small moments of understanding with the Hindi I had picked up. I made sure to eat as much as possible when we were together, a surefire way to put a smile on her face.

10 days later, on my 25th birthday, I was on the bus heading to work when my grandmother passed away. I’ll never forget the spot where I got out of the bus, the feeling in my stomach as I wandered around for a taxi to make my way back home. At that moment all I could think about was my own mother, where she was, how we were going to tell her. What was going to be a foundational part of my time in India, in a moment, was no more.

Dealing with grief was not supposed to be a part of this year. Juleh. I’m still not sure yet what her passing means, what lessons I should learn, and how best to honor the memory of someone who means so much. Juleh. One step at a time, eyes forward, we carry on towards the next peak or the next valley, whichever comes first.