Monday, January 22, 2018

Limitless human spirit


There were some moments in my trek, when I felt I was someone special to be at right place at right time.

We were slowly coming back from Everest Base Camp. It was very tiring. We ran out of breathe very often. But as soon as we reached the spot, it felt as if the body released some reserve energy. All of were happy, cheerful. Lot of high fives going around, everyone posing for photos. Thirty minutes we spent there was what we we walked for ten days. One important item on the bucket list was ticked. As we started coming back, all the additional efforts started weighing down on us and we started to walk even slower.

Out of blue, we heard a bell ringing softly. Many yaks, cows had crossed us but they didn't have bell around there necks. So this was something different. We saw a a trekker as ringing the bell as he walked. When we saw his fellow trekker we were surprised beyond words. The person following him was completely blind.

Human spirit has no limits.

Road we were walking on was trecherous. We had to be careful about every step. A wrong step could mean twisted ankle or fractured bone. But when we got that right, we were rewarded with great views. View of nice blue sky, contrasted with snow white mountains, green valleys, turquoise green coloured river curved thru the forest made us forget our tiredness. Physical efforts was our investment beautiful views was our reward.

I wonder how it worked for that blind man. I felt humbled. All my problems seemed miniscule. All my fears seemed absurd.

A motivated blind man merrily climbing up to the Everest Base Camp made me feel that I don't really have any right to complain about my life. It opened my eyes to possibilities I had never imagined before.

I love trekking because once in a while, in many unexpected ways, we experience things that might shake us out of our protected lives, set patterns and cosy limited realities, to show us the human spirit that we can never imagine.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Never too late to start your life!


My surprises about remarkable people in trekking was far from over.

After successfully reaching Everest Base Camp, I was on my way back. Literally zipping down the slope, rushing towards higher oxygen, talking loudly. Thats when I noticed a lady walking very slowly, carrying a long stick in her hand and her nepali guide was offering hand at every step and she was refusing to take it. This looked very interesting so I slowed down. I was curious about this lady and wanted to know more.

One remarkable thing when you are on such trails, in a contrast to our urban life is, if you smile at anyone on the trail, you get a smile back. Conversations are easy to start. No introductions nor any ice breaking is required. Color, race, age doesn't matter. If you need a smile you get it, if you need company you get it, if you need a hug you get it.

It wasn't difficult to start conversation with this lady. As luck would have it, she was from India and spoke same language. Conversation started flowing from word go. To my amazement, she was 75 years old. She had successfully reached Everest Base Camp. Looked very satisfied as she was slowly making her way back.

I wanted to know her story. She was an ordinary middle class woman from humble background. She did her first high altitude trek when she was 60 to Badrinath. She liked it very much. So she did a few more treks, Kedarnath, Kailash Manas Sarovar and finally Everest Base Camp. What great spirit! I asked her what was her motivation. From Childhood to early adulthood she did everything her father told her to do. She studied, she learnt to cook, she learnt to do little things at home. Then she got married. Then she did everything her husband asked her to do. She managed the household, raised the kids, made them good human beings. They got married too and then at 60 she was an empty nester with her husband again.

She said, "That's when I asked myself, what do I really want. I had lived my life for all others so far. Never thought of myself. So at age of 60 I had lived a reasonably happy life but I didn't real know what I wanted. So I went for my first trek without thinking too much. I didn't even know whether I will be able to complete it, leave alone liking it. But once I was in nature, I knew that was my calling. I knew this is what I wanted. Since then I never looked back. As soon as I reached back, I would plan my next trek. This makes me really happy and make me forget all the hardships I have faced in my life. At age of 60 I started living my life. I thank god for that."

The simple conversation turned profound. Its never too late to start your own life. Peep in your soul and ask yourself what you really want and start doing it.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Age is just a number!

I have completed 5 treks in last 15 months. 2 out of them were high altitude treks. My friends and colleagues tease me that my mid-life crisis is manifesting itself in resurgence of my old hobby. Trekking was rather easy in 20s, it was less tiring, more fun. I would walk up the slope singing, talking non-stop. Trekking in 40s is a different ball game altogether. Walking up the slope now needs preparation and determination. I had to accept that trekking was manifestation of my mid-life crisis by saying 40s is new 20s. In heart of hearts I was feeling very proud that I had embarked on my latest mission of trekking to the Everest Base Camp.

What happened in that trek completely changed my perspective.

"I am Nick I am an American and I am 64 years old"
Nick was my fellow trekker. I didn't know how to respond.
"Are you sure you will be able to complete the trek?" Our guide asked in a polite tone. A very offensive question asked in a polite tone doesn't hurt.
"Well, I have to because after EBC, I am planning to go to another peak at 6000+ meters."
He looked very confident but I wasn't sure. But all my doubts were laid to rest once we started walking together. Nick had obviously prepared very well and he was walking very well. I could barely catch up with him.

Nick wasn't alone we also had Meg with us, she was Japanese about same age as Nick. She had an equally amazing story. She had taken a month off and she was planning to do Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp treks back to back.

I was proud of myself for doing trekking to EBC in 40s but it was such an humbling experience to meet people who were much senior and were planning to do much more than me.

I saluted their motivation. I saluted their determination. I saluted their perseverance. I saluted their preparation. I saluted their families and friends for their support

If 40s was new 20s for me, 60s was new 40s for them. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Global Nomads

Another set of interesting people I met in my treks are backpackers. Somehow, I am fascinated by them. I always saw them in cities like Bangkok. I would be dressed in business suit, trying to wade my way through slow moving traffic and I would see backpackers fumbling with their maps, with their heavy backpacks, watching the world go by. I really envied them.

In my trek however, quite a few fellow trekkers were backpackers too. So this was my chance to know more about them. 

I travel too. But mine is all official travel, everything is planned, the flight, the hotel, the taxi, the clothes, every day, every minute, every second. Their travel was completetly opposite. Except for next destination, nothing was planned.

I had to get them talking.

"Travelling is a bug. Once you have it, its hard to stay in once place. In last ten months, I have been to over 30 countries."
"Fascinating. How did you plan this?"
"The basic plan is there was no plan. There are no rules. I took one way ticket to perth. I stayed at a hostel, met like minded people. Then plans kept happening. I met a group who was going to New Zealand, I joined them. After three weeks, I met a group of three girls, who invited me to go to Bali. It was great fun. Later I found this amazing deal on Euro rail so I went to Europe for three months, then China, India, Jorden....." I lost track of his travel.
"So you are always on the move", thats the best way I could summarise it.
"Yes. As a matter of fact, I haven't slept in the same bed for more than 4 days in last 10 months"
"Wow. Don't you get bored with staying at hostels, shared rooms, common toilets?"
"Sometimes I do. So I check-in a five star hotel for a couple of days. Sleep on soft bed, have sumptuous breakfast, hot water baths, go to spa, get pampered."
"Then?"
"Then I get bored with artificial smiles and forced courtesy and start missing my travel buddies. Then I get back to hostels."
"Don't you call home? Aren't they worried?"
"Yes, I do call once in a while. The unwritten rule for travellers is call home just at the right frequency. If you call less, it means you are having too much fun. If you call too often, it means you are in trouble, may be you need money. Family feels worried."
This was counter-intuitive to me. I mom felt reassured if I called her every day.
"So what is the next destination?"
"Well, I am going home after this."
"Nice. Are you missing home?"
"Umm. Not sure all I can say is I am ready to go home."
"So what is more relaxing, travelling or going home."
He smiled. He had never thought about it.
"I will think about it when I feel settled at home." He said.

This simple conversation was enriching in so many ways.

At home, I don't sleep well if I change my pillow. Sleeping in different bed every four days, is simply unimaginable.

The world around us is inherently uncertain. We put a lot of efforts and work hard to make it predictable. That is why life looks like a struggle. When you start enjoying uncertainties of life, world becomes home. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Why do we trek? part 2

Learn to keep weight down!


 

"Porter porter... give way" my guide called out.

I was breathless as I was climbing up the steep slope of Mount Kinabalu. I stopped readily, gave way to the porter. He was a lean man, carrying large sized cargo, walking much faster than me.  I could only watch him in admiration as I was sweating and panting.

I was on my way to Laban Rata, our base camp for Mount Kinabalu, the tallest peak on the island of Sabah. I was carrying my day pack, couple of litres of water, extra jacket and few knick kancks, weighing just about 5 kg. I watched the porter who was carrying about 40 kg, walking twice as fast with admiration. Worst of all he didn't even have proper footware, just floaters. My bathroom floaters were in a better shape than those. He wasn't alone. These porters were carrying our bags, food items that would be cooked to serve us lavish buffet, gas cylinders, clean bedsheets, towels and all those similar items that make our stay luxurious at Laban Rata. This was a common scene in all treks.  No trek was possible without porters. They were lifeline of not just the trekkers but also the villages we passed through. 



While going to Everest Base Camp I saw a porter carrying entire fridge on his back. It was a high altitude trek, most of us very finding it difficult to breathe or walk briskly. But the porters around were carrying cargo that we never thought could be picked up by one human being. They were walking with a speed we could not catch up with even though we didn't carry any weight.

I was astounded, pained and intrigued at the same time. My initial reaction was pity and feeling of guilt. I was there for fun, recreation but porters were their for work. I blamed their plight on myself. I felt its because I want to come and relax here they are made to work like this.

My trek in Ladakh was different. There the cargo was carried by mules.
"Why don't they use animals?" I asked my guide who was walking alongside.
"If they use animals, they won't earn enough."
It was an eye opener for me to see in the age of smartphone and artificial intelligence, some humans still considered animals as a threat to their livelihood.
"Its their money, don't pity them."

They were working hard, so I could enjoy. It filled my heart with gratitude. So I started interacting with them. I talked, laughed, joked with them. I even tried picking up the load they were carrying. They burst into laughter looking at my plight. 


But they appreciated, someone was thinking about them, ready to put himself in their shoes. Talking to them, understanding them opened me up to their wonderful, innocent world that enriched my life.

Usually porter is an entry level position. Most guides start as porters. That's how they were familiar with every turn, every corner, every season. They knew everything. They were also very happy, smiling folks, always ready for fun. They want to sing and dance whenever they get a chance. So I decided to have fun their way. In Mount Rinjani I had an extempore singing and dancing performance with the porters. 




Such inconceivable and enjoyable moments with guides and porters in foreign countries are the heartwarming experiences I will always cherish.

I asked one of them, "How do you manage to stay happy, despite the hardwork."
He said, "No doubt carrying the load is painful. But we learn to forget the pain as soon as we keep the load down and learn to enjoy ourselves."
It was profound!

In our urban lives we carry mental loads, not physical ones. They are invisible hence more dangerous. Seemingly uneducated, fun loving porter unknowingly told me secret of happiness!!

Why do we trek?
To learn to keep weight down and enjoy!!