Thursday, February 11, 2016

Postponing Happiness 10 years from now....

( SO a lot of things happened at once on - I went through my old journals, I heard Lord Krishna belting out His philosophy on change and my mind was turning over a friends persistent question" where do you see yourself 10 years from now", read on the value of time... and the result was this jumble that YOU have to bear the brunt of:D...bwahhhaaaaaa)

Is what we are today as body, mind, thoughts a final destination of our becoming?!

 We've heard it umpteen times - the power of change and am sure  the words" The only thing constant in life is change" can be spoken when sleepy or even inebriated.

We strive everyday for some utopian image of our selves and life 10, 15, 20, 40 years in the future. A friend recently asked me "Where do you see yourself 10 years from now". Honestly, I drew a blank. (which was funny coz I haven't thought of that question in the past 10 years ...I’ve never had a convincing answer to myself then either except the generic answers which are inevitable anyway and there were so many references to answers to this uestion in my journals since i was in college then and I have come much more further than I imagined myself 10 years ago Did I underestimate myself- no. Also that I found amusing how just the simple 'being happy' was not a 10 year goal...its unwritten , sure....but if that's the key to all we do ,it’s the first thing that must be mentioned,no? Thats the simple answer this I wrote as an honest look at me:))

The only time I have ever thought about it was when I was graduating and had a choice of career options at my feet and interviews in each of these different fields meant me  imagining different scenarios to sound as convincing as possible to my interviewers...Yes I was and am a very confused person:).

Again, today I came across my non- meticulously kept journals over the past 10 years. When I read back, I realised that so many things and happenings that were so important to me then, don't even grace my memory anymore. Have I changed as a person? Have my dreams changed? I also saw how limited some of my "grand " dreams" of yore were. I have grown much more and achieved much more. Did I benchmark myself lower? What if I had benchmarked higher, would I have "fallen atleast on the roof , if not the moon"??!THIS is source of our unhappiness.

I know and have heard umpteen times - ships without a rudder keep on floating and getting nowhere. But what if my only destination is to live life and not to achieve a pre determined goal of X money, Y companion and Z children? Would it mean I leave too many chance or that I am a rudderless ship?! When we give up things in the present in the hope of a secure and happy future, are we absolutely guaranteeing the outcome as we foresee for our future self?! Have we bedeviled ourselves to listen more carefully to the tick of time than life? What is the difference? What if we didn't have a watch or anyway of knowing or noting time. Would we be accurately be able to chronicle and calculate the passage of time? I feel we may be off - by a few days at the least.

I feel that we as people are ever transient , our notions, our bodies, our thoughts- are ever fleeting, moving changing. Would we do things differently if we were told that we have only a short and finite time for our existence? Everyday we invest so much time in the charitable cause of the person we are yet to become. We attach so many conditions for our happiness. Then we refuse to be happy outside of that box of conditions and then blame circumstances, the world, people, even ourselves for our "misery". Misery is nothing but lack of happiness. WHO took that happiness away? DO we realise that our current principles and conditions may mean zilch to our future selves in the pursuit of happiness?

I realised that my goals and dreams were for the person I was at that time and not for who I have become once I have reached that goal. We are always Work- In-Progress and not finished artworks as we mistakenly assume ourselves to be .What, what, what if I woke up today with only the things I thanked the Universe for yesterday!!!! I also see a very simple pattern...all the "good things" happened when something changed - whether in my perception or in my life path as I had imagined it. For one, I never factored in all the disillusionment, the worry, the heartbreaks, the ruthless feedbacks, the flowering of new urges, unknown feelings, terrors, bliss - all the unmet crap I have forgotten to capture....Somethings, Insurance just cannot cover:)

I have learnt, (most people say its a lazy man's thinking) that simplicity lies in not complicating things - including the future;).That's keeping it simple. I recently read that have a goal and assert it time to time, and the universe will make sure that you will not stray from your path and that even adversities turn in your favour, serendipitiously. However, however, however....after a point, even the goal becomes an impediment to the very thing we seek by setting goals – happiness .Simple:)

"Some lose all mind and become soul:insane.
some lose all soul and become mind: intellectual.
some lose both and become :accepted"
- Charles Bukowski

Friday, July 4, 2014

The curious case of a solo female traveller

(Chronicles my travel India- Nepal by public transport, stay in Nepal - unplanned, unscheduled and alone!)

"If you are alone and getting bored, obviously you are in bad company"- Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
It started with a cough(Strike 1).......Was in Darjeeling in cold October. Had developed a nasty cough ....nasty enough to not be able to hear my own voice. Decided to get out of cold rainy Darjeeling and go to a warmer place ...and maybe then i'd hear my voice again...Whether I should go to Bhutan or Nepal was still an enigma to me!  So After a early morning breakfast in sleepy Darjeeling, caught a shared cab. Knowing i wasn't a local, i was tried for an atrocious usually non-existent haggling skills and with some good grace, i managed to pay only 100:D!

After about 4 hours, got off the shared cab at Siliguri and asked directions for the nearest place out of the country- pointed me a 5 min walk to another cab station- went there- the cabs were leaving for Nepal! Done! Nepal it is! Loaded my bag onto the jeep. Wanted to go to loo desperately. There was a travel shop bang opposite. Went in there.They pointed me to some place on the first floor. Walked up that dilapidated building where nobody seemed to reside. Reached the landing where the loos were.Sweet bladder victory! However, spotted one creepy guy.His inebriated gait and ogle sobered me a bit. Went to loo.Saw shadows outside loo door. In the loo, before opening the door, I opened my swiss knife and kept it in pocket. Then whipped out my my phone and acted as if i was talking to someone-" haan main upar hi hoon . toilet mein. niche aa rahi hoon. aap bhi aa jaiye aapko jaana hai toh.("yah, am upstairs. In the toilet. Coming down now. If you want you can come up too"). There were now 3 guys outside door. But backed off staring alternately between my phone and the stairs.( Lesson: Imaginary conversations on the cellphone are more handy than a pointed or heavy object or even pepperspray;). RAN down staircase and breathed a sigh of relief when i found myself back in the crowd! Next scare was- will the jeep and my bag be there when i go to the taxi stand?! It was! and ready to leave!

I reached the border town of Panitanki passing through Siliguri in about 40 mins. It was a queer excitement  - to walk across the India border, walk over about a kilometre over the dried Mechi river and into Nepal ( one can also take a cycle rickshaw ). I've always taken flights out of the country and this I've never experienced. The land didn't change, the scenery didn't but for some reason, India felt India and Nepal felt another country. I believe in eliminating "borders" coz of the strife they cause....but I have to admit, that for some reason, i 'felt' the border and felt thankful to the forces that fiercely guarded that border. Kakarbitta is the Nepal border town.

Like a dutiful traveler who "toes the line", went searching for immigration office, to all the border security's amusement.It was an empty building. No queues. Went and asked for the immigration form. They asked for passport. Told them i don't have it on me right now. But my drivers license i have. They queried" are you an Indian?" "Yes!" "Then no, go....". My heart sank. I said but i thought drivers license is enough for an Indian, we don't need passport for Nepal.They said "no, if you are Indian, no immigration required- just walk through" ."Errr...." Exasperatedly they said "We also just walk into India... just go:)"...phew!!!!!

At  the India - Nepal Border, Kakarbitta

Next was figuring out tickets.First I didn't know where i wanted to go? Pokhara or Kathmandu. There were enough touts trying to sell bus tickets. There are innumerable bus services and I'd read before hand how to avoid touts and go straight to the ticket offices. Went to ticket agent office - some 1780 Nepali bucks later had my tix for the 5 pm "luxury" ac bus.  Funny thing is they show you the bus seems there is a lot of misrepresenting that goes on here.( and I learnt that on my trip back).

It was not even 1 pm and i was hungry...and it was hot! Went around looking for some good place to get coffee and a sandwich- nothing.All they sold were chowmein!Left my backpack at the agents office( yes, i don't have trust issues) and went to a restaurant opposite the bus stand. They didn't have bread... coffee? - a reluctant yes. Sat and had a few cups o coffee. Was fun interacting with the kid touting hungry passengers to the restaurant. Had a nice chat with him. Also felt sad that such a brilliant child was denied an education and was hawking other's restaurants.Such is life in poor countries..... Had a chat with the owners kids. They were watching some Hindi serial on TV! amazing!. The restaurant also served alcohol. So had a few groups of men coming in...and after a while I realised that I was a specimen to be observed - coffee in one hand, book in another and smartphone in err.. the third. EVERYONE who came in had polite conversations with me - enquiring where I was from and where i was headed too. Why was I travelling alone - especially being a girl- and a seemingly "good" Indian girl( the definition of "good Indian girl" still eludes me). One guy came in and asked me too many personal questions that put me on the edge...i thanked the inventors of earphones and sat absorbed in a book( Pretending to listen to music helps avoid unwelcome conversations!) Another guy however came and stuck up a good conversation with me.  and even offered to drop me halfway to Katmandu. Although he seemed nice, WHATever would I do , in the middle of the night ,in the middle of a place I don't know and eventually would have to catch a bus form there to Kathmandu anyway! One day when 5 pm didn't come too soon!

5 pm!!Sat in the bus. Behind me were 2 monks from Gangtok. One of them was friendly enough to answer all my curious questions that i pounded him with - how he decided to walk this path ;how difficult it was to leave everything etc; life in a monastery etc. One nice old man came and sat next to me. He was quiet throughout the journey but kept smiling.I kept offering him my food whenever hungry me opened a packet:)...nice old man. The bus was filled with Indian and Nepali Nepalis. Loud Nepali movie started and made me think 3rd grade Hindi movies so much better!

The road was smooth till we came on the mountainside narrow highway to Kathmandu after which the bus just felt like a large lady swaying her hips. Looking out of the window made me realise how close we were to plunging in that valley. Loo stops were road side stops on that narrow road. The ladies just pulled down their pants and sat on the dark road. I was like NO WAY! Light  definitely reflects off shiny white asses.....and Indian sub continent men are known for their voyeuristic nature anyway! AT some 4 am- again loo break . I HAD to go. Plus it was HMI pressure time for me. Luckily there were these "huts" just below the doors but prevented anyone from seeing either.Women were supposed to  go down there...all the ladies chose to stay up and bare their bums! DO as you please! I can't! I came back up in a few secs- nobody was there...the bus had gone...I could see it slowly gathering speed. 4 am. I don't know where I am. I know nobody. My backpack is on that bus. I don't have a working phone connection!!! I ran after the bus on that highway screaming "bus...bus...stoppp"; except that there was no voice in my throat thanks to the cough.(Strike 3) Luckily the bus stopped after a few 50 metres. The monks had noticed my absence! I was furious and scared and thankful all at the same time. Never in India has a bus left like this; they meticulously count the passengers after every stop!

Reached Kathmandu at 6 am. Too early to call my acquaintance there.Haggled with a cab and went to Thamel . Searched for KGH since he was staying there. But room too expensive. Went around searching for a room. Had enough touts asking me that they'll show me a nice inexpensive hotel. One cab driver took me to this hotel deep into this narrow street. Was apprehensive a bit. However, liked the homely aunty who for some reason took fancy to me and offered the lowest rate.I still wasn't sure. My acquaintance called - he was just back from an early meetin. He spoke to KGH hotel staff. They only quoted expensive rooms. Went back to Hotel Radiant.In a few days, was introduced to this amazing Hostel called Alobar 1000 right in Thamel and moved there. Indians are generally NOT comfortable sharing their holiday living spaces with other people, especially strangers from various nationalities especially in another country and especially with the opposite sex;). Before i walked in, I was apprehensive and made lengthy enquiries about their valuables storage space etc. Not that i was carrying anything expensive. But i value every piece of my meticulously researched and chosen equipment, especially backpack more than easily repleacable laptops and ipads:p. I only went to the room late at night when everyone was already asleep...but somehow, it felt home. I got the best sleep in a month the nights i stayed at Alobar 1000:). And yes, i left my stuff lying right there, accessible to all and touched by none:). We Indians have lost our ability to trust:)

Alobar 1000
The next one week was a blur and yet slow days. Met quite a few interesting people, roamed the city with strangers or alone. Acquaintances and new meets became good friends with whom most mealtimes were spent. Used the cheap public transport - these are mini buses that span across the city and cost between 10 NPR and 20 NPR. It felt weird that even in your neighbouring nation, they treated you like a stranger/ tourist rather than one of their own. I have not felt the distinction in India. Nepalis have easily slid in into the system . Or maybe it's just me being naive. I realised only on the last day that for some reason, they didn't even realise i was Indian. For some reason many of them took me to be Malaysian!!!

Lodge (?!?!) named "Chitwan Condom house"
I learnt that there was going to be a 10 day strike in Nepal. Had to get out of there before that. SO 2 days before the strike was to begin, went to the bus depot at Gongabu to book my tix back into India.The guy at the Yeti counter  told me that there was no need to book in advance if I wasn't sure and gave me his card and number and asked me to call him the day I wanted to leave and he would hold a "special ladies seat". I waited till the last day, hoping that the strike would be called off. But well, it wasn't so with a heavy heart, called him on day i was supposed to leave.( the strike would begin next day at 5 am).The last day was spent with my Canadian friend having "Indian" breakfast of melting Parle-G biscuits in hot tea in a glass, candid snaps, some shopping, more amazing and cheap food and an awe of spending a week with stranger and feeling like having been with family.
A happy little girl at Kathmandu Durbar square
 Rushed to the bus stand amidst the narrow roads of Thamel being blocked by protestors. The "special seat" happened to be seat next to drivers seat. No air conditioning of course. Bonus is the squeamish view as the bus swerves and I thought Indian drivers were rash!! I wondered if I'd get back to India safely. The conductor and driver kept me distracted by offloading their views on politics and the Government and living conditions etc. They were also amazed to see a girl travel lone. The conductor was a little leery. But well...being Indian used to that. In the middle of night bus was stopped various times. The military police had put a curfew coz the villagers enroute had said that they will stone every bus that passes through. Somewhere at 2 am, we were split and transferred to various buses and escorted by military police. Apparently one bus had been burnt . So basically i would've spent another 10 days in some village in Nepal if the bus driver hadn't convinced the military to please let us pass. Was a jittery night - wondering where the stones or bombs will come from.The bus had to go slow to be careful from any bombs or  thorns on the road..

Reached India finally at 7 am. Again there was that beautiful anticipation of crossing a border. I also went through a dramatic thought of kissing the ground once i cross over into India!!! Well I WAS happy to have my 3G network back up! Got a mail from a friend, Veronika that she's in Gangtok.I still had 2-3 days to meet my other friends to be back from their trek.Caught jeep for Gangtok(the jeep station is on the right hand side, just as you cross over into India) - 150 bucks. Took all day as the President was in Gangtok and hence traffic on the narrow "highway". The local cabbie in Gangtok again expressed his amazement of how women can travel alone especially after all that comes in the news!But he also told me a very interesting thing( which was a topic of discussion back in Nepal as well) -apparenty most of the solo travellers he's ferried- foreigners or Indian, are women. Men don't prefer travelling alone as such....!!

Turn on the news, read the paper. Most of the news is negative, not positive.Positive news is not news for the Fourth estate.Now we even talk about how news can be manipulated to serve the interests of those with power/ money/ patronage. However, we still lap up , chew and gulp down every piece of news that is dished to us. What then happens to us is like the "medical school syndrome" ( in the initial part of medical training, students, when they read about diseases and their symptoms, they realise they have all of them!!!).This keeps people from travelling like this.

We need to realise what shapes us and our fears is not necessarily reality, but it's the lens through which we view the world.I am not saying we musn't be careful or musn't think about a rainy day or live our life seeking random happenchances. But we must appreciate hunger to experience the more-than-bliss when we get little morsels.We must live life. Fully.Carefully. Comfortably. But without the fear of loss or failure or  the pessimism of what if's and buts.When you travel like this, you get to know that the world is not as we imagined it - it's paradoxically kind and cruel at the same time and even worse- we are capable of both - just a matter of perspective! We don't stop being racist or bigots but atleast realise that irrespective of where we come from, we all eat, cry, drink, laugh, fear similarly - so maybe we all could atleast respect each other and be acquaintances, if not friends. Solo travel allows you to experience yourself, to trust strangers, to be away from and yet long for family and friends, to be constantly off-balance, to know that despite all the gadgets and credit cards we carry,all that is indispensable, that is really ours is the air, sky, sleep, dreams - all things leaning towards the eternal, or atleast our idea of it..............

Friday, May 30, 2014

Because Mountaineers have no sense of smell...............

Arms akimbo he stands on the slope"Oh cuhmon Deepa! You know what will happen if you don't...faster!!"
Panting in the April chill, "yessss sir, running!" i whimper thinking to myself "Phooey! It seems I'm as bad as I was the yesterday.Just NOT effing improving" .This is what played almost everyday at 6 am - while running up Darjeeling slopes for PT at HMI.

That was the start of my journey at Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.From day one when we are starry eyed, apprehensive naive 'cadets' counting each breath before the assault of the morning PT begins to waiting for the tough trek to end to waiting for the cold long walks to the glacier to end to waiting to get back to Basecamp after reaching the summit, to getting that BMC certificate that embellishes us, its a crazy eventful journey.

What we go through :Mountaineering Basic course is a 28 day course. 8 days are spent crawling around the Institute premises  in Darjeeling. You are not allowed to step out except 2 "outing" days. You're locked in for 28 days with strict wake up, Fall In and Light out times. The days are split up into morning PT(1 hour), mealtimes(7.30 am, 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm and 7 pm), Rock climbing and rappelling sessions( both on natural and artificial surfaces) and lectures on mountains, climbing, medical aspects, map reading etc.We had one 22  kms trek to Tiger Hill with full load,few days before we left for Basecamp. Day 9 - bus trip to Yuksom(SIkkim)  and day 10 we began our trek. Yuksom - Bakhim(9000 ft)- Dzongri( 13200 feet) - Chowrikhang( 14600 feet). We stayed at Chowrikhang urf Basecamp( in the Rathong valley) for about 2 weeks where we learnt the basics of snow and ice craft plus some bouldering with those dratted 2 kg snow boots and jumarring  and at the end we did height gain aka summitted Renok peak. The last 4 days were spent at the institute - in cross country races and sports climbing competition, turning in our equipment, writing an exam, learning how to make a stretcher. They were the most relaxed 4 days - something we weren't used to at all....The last day we had a graduation ceremony when the principal pinned a little ice-axe replica with HMI written on it on our proud chests and gave us our precious certificates.

On one of the bridges enroute Bakhim

Ice Climbing on Rathong Glacier

Self Arrest in Snow

Getting down from the glacier

Outdoor Climbing wall at HMI, Darjeeling

That's XYZ Peak , %^&* metres/feet, first climbed in 19&* by _________

Rappelling practice at Basecamp

Jumarring practice at Basecamp

Stretcher making

The Preceptors :The Instructors treated us with caustic charm which did go down well with us - atleast the ones who "toed" the line. They were mostly a perfect balance of discipline and fun and pushed us amiably to raise our physical and technical standards. People cribbed about discipline. We weren't used to it. But then in the mountains or any unstable terrain, I have come to realise, that's one of the things that can save you.Needless to say all the instructors are not only proficient in technical skills; they shared their knowledge, experience and passion well.A big thanks and hug to all of them for that. We had a brief interaction with the Principal whose committment and passion to raising the bar at the institute as well as the welfare and training of the students is commendable.

The Disciples: There is a diverse mix of people in the course representing the length and breadth of India as well as ones from the defence forces.We the slow ones called  the penguins.One very valuable lesson learnt about ourselves was this: While tangible things like strength and endurance has its uses, its intangible things like perseverance grit and love( yes, love!) that makes it useful. Each person has his/her own way of assimilating, spurning and negotiating through the course.Mountains have their own ways of dealing with overconfidence. There were many knee- jerk reactions to the tyrannical itch that seniors/ defence peeps and some instructors sometimes showed( I'd blame it on Altitude Sickness). But it's all good. It's all fun. After all" the best journeys are not in straight lines"

Nom Nom: Breakfast was a standard dry bread  plus eggs /  pakoras, puri bhaji some days. We had tea- biscuits at 10 am and round 4 pm. Lunch and dinner was standard Indian fare of Indian bread, rice, lentils, curry, paneer/ chicken at the Institute and at the Basecamp we additionally had soup before dinner and  hot chocolate post dinner....:D

Kit & Kaboodle : Equipment is provided by the institute. They literally have a "godown" and plenty of sizes available for all. We were given a down jacket, a sturdy wind proof set, high altitude sleeping bag,  mess tin, bottle, harness set alongwith a piece rope, snow shoes, crampons, gaiters, ice axe, sleeping mat, rucksack, spoon, glass.
Stuff that you MUST take with you - Besides your clothes, fleece jacket, warm socks, cap, woolen hat, and other things, I would recommend:
1. Headlamp  AND one set of extra batteries( Headlamp preferable to a torch- imagine trying to hold the
    mess tin and water bottle and torch and also eat....)
2. Butter paper - cut into 20 X 15 cms - saves scrubbing your mess tin. Trust me the water is COLD! The        food is greasy.Your hands love to stay inside warm gloves. You do the math.
3. Hydration pack. I like to keep sipping water. I hate to keep stopping. My bottle is out of reach. I love my
    hydration pack
4. Wet wipes. Ok this is an red siren for environmentalists. But instead of toilet paper, this is THE miracle  
     swab for your a** and also good to wipe face/feet, body with whenever you feel like having a wash.( Oh      forgot to mention- you don't bathe for 28 days...yes..Because mountaineers have no sense of smell!!;))
5. Buff - Life saver for the face. The valley is cold, the sun is strong, winds are fierce enough to make the tin
    dustcan fly...your face will dry and blacken and flake without this essential piece. Or atleast carry a cotton
    scarf for your face.
6. Trekking poles - save your ego for another time. Your knees will thank you this time. The walk back
     down I felt was the worst - knees took the worst of it.If you don't have trekking poles, no matter, pick up      the first stick you see once the trek begins. There are plenty. And then guard these sticks with your life.  
    These are the things that get easily flicked!
7. Sunscreen - CARRY it!
8. Moisturiser - Will save your skin too
9. Chapstick - Carry atleast one spare. They have an uncanny want to slither out of pockets/ bags.

Lectures at 14600 feet

Cricket at 14,600 feet

The graduation snap

"Define Ridge" ...whilst studying for the written test
Finding your compass: What you will take back is beyond your imagination. Yes we come here to learn and take back the certificate. Then of course there is also the "cool" element of impressing one's friends, family and acquaintances. But then if you keep an open mind and'll take back much much more - tangible and intangible.This is a powerful life changing experience for many. "For those who live in fear, nothing ventured, nothing gained."

I barely used my camera except to click some funny faces. The people stories in the mountains:). There were enough DSLR's clicking away in the background. I was satisfied with my phone camera. There are somethings that a camera can only capture a sliver of. The surreal nature of what I saw will only exist in memory. Most of the time during the trek,  I was sunk in thought. It's strange but the burden on my back and the constant shouts of "catch up" and "this is not a trek, its training" made sure kept my nose to the ground.But then there were times when i looked up and saw scenery that reminded me of the floating hills in Avatar etc. Yes I have an active imagination. But that's the only way I could survive 3 days of uphill assault.Plus counting breaths and reciting and counting whatever i was reciting( even if it were an expletive;))

Whether its negotiating the wee morning ablutions with a stranger, trying to hack your way on an ice wall by frontpointing or learning to trust that stranger down below belaying you or walking up a rock slope you never thought you'd go without protection, such an an experience exposes you to various shades of trust and bonding.They teach you how to sustainably live with nature. Though I'd like to add that I'm not really proud to speak of the amount of garbage we generated with so many of us. You learn that adventure means also being responsible about the team and one's safety and a great deal of emphasis is placed on how's and why's of protection before, during and after a climb.Mountaineering is not about playing Russian Roulette with one's life!

Inevitably, almost everyone falls sick, whether its chest problems or gastric ailments, or skin allergies and chillblains. But this illness is sort of an adventure  within an adventure that leaves you doubly transformed. And then when you get better, you are paradoxically stronger than before. ( Of course living and labouring in the mountains and at altitude adds RBC's, Vitamin D and lung capacity;))

"I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?

Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things."
- Rumi

Whether devout or not, inexplicably, the mountains are a numinous place. Sometimes you experience the divine while labouring through a mountain path. For some, the haze from their goals dissapears. I've seen the most ego centric people humble down, the most self- centred people stop and help, the most obnoxious people praise perseverence and effort, the slow people lead, the confident question their convictions. You push yourself physically and mentally. The ambition is not just to arrive at some breathtaking distant location but to return to your usual place cloaked in intriguing unfamiliarity and simplicity.

"You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place ? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know."
-- Rene Daumal

To learn more about what gruelling days we went through everyday to all the things we learnt to all the "masti" we were accused of doing, and all the people we met please read:
AND for the Advanced Course Experience:
What i learnt:
About HMI and the courses they offer :

(Photo credits: Mr Puri, Mr Hemang Gala, Mr Karan Kumar)

Monday, May 26, 2014

WHY mountains

I'm a person of the mountains and the open paddocks and the big empty sky, that's me, and I knew if I spent too long away from all that I'd die; I don't know what of, I just knew I'd die.” - John Marsden

Everytime I wanna head to the mountains or climbing, I have to  go through a lot of internal and external bickering and resolving to finally take that step outta the door.Internal- coz its just a mind game with enough people having brain washed how my weight is too much to pursue such crazy activities and how knocked knees means all they're good for walking in "nana- nani parks". Internal also since I'm struggling with the question of  "how is this helping me spiritually" ...are these physical activities making me respect the physical body more than the spirit? External coz it's a fight against the folks who will never believe that this is as dangerous as climbing a bus:). Well ok, I know am exaggerating.

Somehow, everytime a holiday comes to my mind, its mountains and more specifically Himalayas that come to my mind. Ok for starters, Mountaineering is NOT fun! (There i've gone and said it! ). It's cold, painful, breathless,toilsome, exhausting, fraught with indecisive decisions to make and at the end of it, loss of limb(s) or life looms like a shadow every moment. What IS fun are the intangible things you take back from your time in the mountains including selfies;). Now that i have gained a wee bit of experience on snow and ice, I am even more kicked to go to those cold ice-clad peaks. But WHY ask everyone of me:)......

First thing.Meet great  people.When you are sleeping, washing, walking, climbing  and even pooping, puking, next to the same people, 24 hours for days or weeks, and yet having a good time, that says a lot. That’s a strong indication of a great group of friends. Even if you go solo, you'll meet people on the way/ share loo/tents/rooms with people. Everyone has a story even more wonderful/worse than yours. You learn to share, to be flexible, to be responsible.  You start seeing the world outside your seemingly long periscope.You start stopping to judge. Humility sets in. Send people to mountains/ into adventure sports and racism may just duck its ugly head forever!?!! FYI: People are what most mountain stories are about;).

                                            (Photo Courtesy: Hemang Gala)
It brings suppleness- not just because of the loss of body weight and increase in muscle power and flexibility( that people like me desperately need;)), but also the way mountains somehow tend to break one's rigid perceptions. As we age, we reverse every advantage and asset that we were born with. At 20, we aren't as supple as we are at 10; at 30, even 50...still 60, some parts of the bones/organs would have been replaced. Similarly, we keep on becoming rigid in our perceptions. Slowly we keep strengthening the walls of the box we have put ourselves in. We stop being able to be empty and receptive to things, people, experiences. We are in a constant state of regression..mental, physical, emotional, intellectual.."Destiny" is often used as a cop out. One way to break the mould is going into nature.Listen.Experience. Reflect. Learn. A trip to the mountains can only leave one refreshed in everyway, despite the hardships that have to be gone through :)

Because no matter how itsy-bitsy we are, we still have the strength and courage to get up that colossal mountain.It does not matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop. At altitude, you get breathless, feel weak, become clammy,feet are lead.....However, you learn that enshrining one's limitations isn't a great thing to do! You push, you cry, you push some more, you persevere. Teaches you a lot about you. True grit! Again, mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.Like a mountaineer once told me,'The mountain will decide'.

Minimalistic living - Even for a month of mountains you don't need much. Not even the facewash;). I don't mean in terms of quantity of rations- which depends on the duration of the trip etc. I mean in terms of things you need to survive. You start appreciating small things in life - even a lollipop or a bar of chocolate are more precious than diamonds up there;). You learn to take only what you need. Plus hand sanitiser and baby wipes;).You realise that  the need to buy new crap actually boils down to validation from others.(Don't worry, I still LOVE you, iPhone)

The anticipation of such a trip is amazing. You plan, you dream.... Plans may go awry but you come back with stuff better than the anticipated dreams;). Once you're back- reflective you are! The journey to the top and back changes you immensely:)

A mountain adventure is something that I can take an active part in but that I don't have total control over.....Our constant need to want to control warps our interpretation of what we perceive. The ground for travel is a wandering mind, the tree of travel is a wondering mind and the fruit of travel is to not mind......since travelling,(especially to mountains) somehow manages to trash the ego and rids one of the need to defend one's identity. You accept what you get with humility and happiness.....

Finally and most importantly, like John Muir rightly expressed: I'd rather be in the mountains thinking of God than in the temple thinking of mountains. Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of nowhere you find yourself. Somehow, with cracked lips, frozen blackened peeling face, and a cold frozen body, drinking  washing with glacial water, sleeping on cobbled  and hard cold earth/wood, pooping in the wild, living in constant darkness thanks to lack of electricity  - basically away from every basic necessity and comfort one is used to makes one also get out of the comfort zone. Easy to say, but its an experience to experience. It brings a humility which the shared snaps and awe they garner just do not emanate. I can't explain it but every such trip( and i've had very few till now) have made me realise and experience things that books and satsangs couldn't. Faith and security work in inverse;).

And then you come back.........

Cindy Ross has put it well when she says “Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.” . Even though moored to home and folks ...this happens every time...and stays for a while and every time the time taken to "settle back down" seems to get longer in an apparently linear but actually exponential manner..........

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Week with Trekking Partners:)

They say whatever happens, happens for the best! Sometimes,
distasteful events happen- events that create a lot of err emotional
upheavals when the best laid plans go awry.But then, they pave way for
unplanned events that in many ways open up newer destinations,journeys
and people. One such well- laid plan went awry when I started coughing
at Chowrikhang, 4500 metres, Kanchenjunga National Park, Sikkim and
told to turn back and walk down asap.I was in no mood to go back down
to sea level, 20 days ahead of schedule. I was bent on stepping into
Bhutan and had dreams of the monastery at Paro. But decided to give
myself a few days to get better. 2 nights in cold Darjeeling where my
throat and chest got progressively worse were enough to pack my sack
and head down to Siliguri. My throat was hoarse with barely any sound
creeping out. After the mountains, Siliguri felt overwhelmingly
unbearable. Bhutan, a new place and alone became a little distant
plan. Walked a few once i got out of the shared jeep at Siliguri and i
landed in a jeep enclosure - jeeps that were headed for the Nepal
Border. Hmm....did a quick check on the temp in Kathmandu - at 20
degrees- seemed toasty warm and familiar . While negotiating with the
the shared jeep driver, on a whim, quickly emailed Alex, founder,
Trekking Partners with whom I'd  exchanged a few emails earlier. His
prompt reply was that he's in Ktm!!!wuhuuu!

A memorable and bumpy bus ride later(Kakarbitta- Ktm), landed in Ktm

at 6 am. Went to KGH- but they didn't have beds available. I decided
it was too early to call Alex and meanwhile - went around looking for
room to stay. The cheapest option at NPR 600 was Hotel Radiant - in
the heart of Thamel and a few minute walk from KGH. Still undecided
and famished - went and had a nice breakfast before calling up Alex.
Met him at KGH and we walked down looking for hotels, finally settling
on Hotel Radiant.

I had no idea why i was in Nepal again except that i loved the place,

and it was warmer and more familar , with loads to do than
Darjeeling.But this was perhaps the first trip that i stayed a place
without really "doing" anything. For a person like me- that's an
achievement of sorts. The days that i stayed in Ktm, i planned on
treks, long solo cycling trips, bungee jumping, white water rafting-
but somehow cancelled every plan . The only thing i did DO was climb
at Astrek, Thamel for a few hours.I didn't regret it at all though.

Day one was spent showing me "Durbar" area of Kathmandu. It was

interesting to see Alex manoevre and bypass all the paid entry points-
since it was a festival day- Bhai-dooj. Also  saw the man in action-
Alex posting his posters on street lights, empty walls, beseechingly
colourful rows of posters that read"Trekking Partners".

Next day, walked down to Svayambhu , bumped into Alex at one of his

"offices" at Himalayan Java. He told me about Alobar 1000 , a cool
hostel that he'd  found out about.Met Alex for dinner who took me to
this small shop tucked away in one of those bylanes that you never
find again - it was kinda a "dhaba" as we Indians would call it.It was
the type of place that I'd pass by and not step in. But here, for 100
NPR, we got served 2 plates of nan, 2 vegetables and a dal. Plus
BYOB:). Suprisingly, the place was fully occupied and half of them
tourists! We walked back down- getting lost in the streets of Thamel-
identifying streets by noticing the TP posters, discovering that a
good Samaritan had left disco lights switched on in the streets-Diwali
celebrations perhaps. Was amusing to stand outside and watch a bakery
full of people coz post 9.30 pm, they offer a 50% discount on all
bakery products.

Next morning- checked out Alobar and kinda liked the place.

Immediately booked a bed for the next few days.Alex organised a dinner
for TP folks who were in Ktm. Was a small but fun group that night-
from people heading to EBC  and ABC to downhill bikers to people who
had stood each other up on TP! Next morning quick visit to Alobar 1000
to dump my stuff and we happened to speak to Tashi, the guy who
started Alobar. He spoke about a offroad and pristine route that he
was planning to bike to. Bingo! Alex and I decided to go there( plus
Patan) after renting a bike the next day. Les and I went to explore
Pashupatinath. Unfortunately , Les would have to pay a bomb to step
into the temple premises( and yet not allowed into the temple) so he
skipped it.Dinner with Alex, Les, and Stacy. We couldn't get enough of
her stories. She was the only UN pilot we'd met who flies in a strife

Next few days were spent with Alex and Stacy - breakfasts, shifting

hotels, repairing brand new bike, climbing,shopping, giggling and
waiting for the melon from the tree above to fall on the unaware
breakfaster,choosing unheard of meals from a huge Tibetan menu and 
hoping we get served something palatable, farewell dinner for our Everester friend, 
Les,  dipping Parle-G biscuits in tea atop a temple at Durbar square, 
cancelling the rent-a-motorbike plan coz we discovered that the biking trip Tashi
mentioned was a commercial one after all,  meeting even more people -
interesting of which were the Catalans Alex and I spotted at
Revolution cafe -sitting with a biking map of Nepal .(Jordy - the
biker who had interesting stories cycling the Silk Route, Ikar, the
fireman who has been trekking in Nepal for a few months,Gloria and her
ebullient bf with an indefinite stay in Nepal- coz theyre enjoying
playing their part in a social project in the hamlets of Nepal.They
rent an apartment in Ktm and are very welcoming to anyone who needs to

Unfortunately, my trip had to come to an end because of the 10 day

strike in Nepal ahead of elections.It was really great to hear so many
stories, meet great people doing so many different things, in one
small country- Nepal and that too just coz i happened to register and
gainfully use this brilliant website called
are the chances!

Alex, a stranger when i arrived in Ktm became , in a way home to me

those few days that i stayed in Ktm. Very interesting,
perseverent,dedicated and a fun person.His curiosity and openness to
accepting new cultures, people, experiences is what makes him such a
great person to hang out with and learn from. His is a new business,
so to speak AND, it seems almost everyone he meets has lots of ideas
and suggestions for him on how to take it forward and make it a
success and how to monetize it. It was interesting to see his
reactions and answers to people suggesting how he monetize it.. One of
the wonderful qualities noticed in Alex is that as he respectfully
listens to every suggestion and assimilates it, his eyes light up with
interest and he smilingly acknowledges and appreciates something good
about the idea. And he does this tirelessly EVERY single time!

I've never seen him dismiss any idea, or say it is not possible or

practical, nor does he justify why his approach is better.Not that he
agrees to every idea just because it was given.He has clarity of what
he'll do and won't. But It's quite remarkable how open he is to ideas,
suggestions, observations and even criticism.

I feel he embodies the spirit of open mindedness and is open hearted,

and he seems to take something of value from every such interaction
that he has. And THAT is an inspiring quality:)

Please visit, register and use for your next travel adventure.....

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Get out of the newspapers-experience life LIVE:)

A very interesting incident on Xmas day 2013:

Dropped my iPhone while riding on the highway in the morn... Now my initial reaction on dropping the phone was not to call the phone, but to enable its tracking app - you see people will always want to steal an expensive phone, especially the poor folks who sweep/ live along the highway. After experimenting with the app remotely,I finally skeptically called my phone-a man picked up and told me a sweeper on the highway picked it up and gave it to him and asked me to come collect it. I was still apprehensive.Whoever returns a shiny iPhone nowadays. He was definitely a thug and must have rounded his gang to extract money from me/ to follow me or whatever the newspapers say happen to naive women nowadays . Removed all my cards from the wallet ,messaged a friend my whereabouts and kept my swiss knife handy. Reached the place. The guy smilingly handed me over my phone. Tried paying him to give the lady who'd picked up and given my phone. But he said she has specifically said she wants nothing and he too said he has everything he needs:)..he just wanted to make sure the phone reaches its owner. This incredulous incident taught me a few things- 

1.How we have conditioned ourselves to trust so little. 

2. Gordon Gecko's famous 'Greed is good' works more with the 'haves' than the 'have-not's'. Contentment is the real wealth. Vasant's smile handing me over the phone was wider than my apprehensive and relieved smile 

3. We need much less than what we think we need. Life with a 1200 buck phone is peaceful.

Another incredulous fact this incident bought out was the fact that all the friends, family and acquaintances i shared this with were stupefied. It was not comprehensible that such a thing can happen in today's selfish and greedy times. We have been hypnotised into believing the "badness" of the world.

"Fear is not real.The only place that fear can exist is in our THOUGHTS of the FUTURE. We fear things that do not at present and may NEVER exist.Danger is very real but fear is a CHOICE"- After Earth

I get a lot of people asking me "How can you travel alone to another country where you know nobody with no pre-booked hotel reservations!Its UNSAFE! Don't you read the papers! Shit happens"

Yes, shit happens and it sucks but does it mean I assume a bad incident everytime I step out of the "safe" confines of my home?! Besides, meeting strangers IS great! its beautiful.It's not really just for that overwhelming sense of pride and freedom we experience, that first time we come back in one piece and yet we've been shattered into so many different pieces that lie in distant places with people we met places we felt and experiences that touched us...our innards have been shattered- in a good way. Our boundaries and ways of viewing situations have been broadened!

Recently read a very non-verbose simple piece by some mountain climbers who summed up their experience "Up there, there is nothing. Just the story you wrote with your own life to get there"

There are enough reasons that our closest peeps tell us why we musn't "do such things"...i think basically they're telling us "stop being naive and trusting so much".Mind you, these are the same God-fearing people who tell you to keep the faith in adverse situations , that we musn't lose faith in Him.... But they miss out the point that we really trust the universe with our heart without realising that we do! :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Drought to Floods

To think that just a few months ago, under the scorching summer sun, we were cribbing about Drought in India. MahDrought was trending on social networks for quite a while with people debating and offering their intelligent opinions incessantly on failed policies, on irrigation scams , on water cuts, on a dry Holi ( oh yeah this was a BIG one).And now it's back to water- not paucity, but excess of it in Northern India, where, thousands of travelers and pilgrims are still stuck.

Kedarnath, a popular Indian pilgrimage stands astounded with the devastating breach of the holy Ganges into its interiors.The visuals- from Dehradun lower down to the upper reaches of the Ganges is shocking.

Floods (and other natural calamities) fling us back to the primal struggle for survival and reveal our absolute dependency,despite technology, on mammoth,yet mysterious forces...

Praying for them....and to think i was there less than 2 weeks ago...