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!! 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Why do we trek?

In last 15 months, I completed 5 hikes in 5 different countries. I started off with Markha Valley in Leh, then Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia - tallest peak in South East Asia. Then I went to Mount Rinjani on Lombok island in Indonesia. In August, I intended to go to Mount Fuji but bad weather forced us to change the destination and we went to Mt. Shibutsu instead. Finally, in the month of October I went to Everest Base Camp from Nepal side. With this flurry of treks, I surprised my family, close friends and myself too.

Trekking was part of my life in 20s when I was in my graduate engineering course. Every semester would start and end with a trek in Sahyadri range on ancient forts. When I look back at my life in engineering course, I don't remember my subjects, my studies, my professors nor my grades for which I struggled so hard. I don't even remember what I learnt and how that is helping me in my life now. All those memories are hazy. What I remember very clearly are my treks. I can close my eyes and see the rocky mountains, green valleys. I can hear cuckooing birds and waterfalls jumping from the cliffs. I can smell the wild flowers and jungle grass. I still remember who said what and how we laughed till tears rolled on our cheeks. When I think about those days my heart is filled with serene happiness.

Life zipped past me. I was in my mid-forties before I could think of trekking again. That's when I accidentally stumbled upon an opportunity to do my first high altitude trek in Leh. I grabbed it with both hands and rest as they say history.

I jokingly tell my close friends that my mid-life crisis manifested itself in resurgence of trekking in my life. I had fond memories of this adventure sport in my early life, its helping me to cope with uncertainty in later half of my life. What I didn't know is it is not just filling the void. It is much more than that.

Trekking has opened me to a lot more life experiences than I could ever imagine. It has transformed some simple moments in golden life time memories. It has helped me to have deep connection with people across the world, whom I may never see again. But those moments will bind us together make us miss each other wherever we are.

In this blog series, I plan to share my memories, experiences. They enriched my life beyond my expectations, hope you will find them enjoyable. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Over-measured Life!

A few days back, someone gifted me a Fitbit. Without knowing much, I started using it. It was quite fascinating. It could measure everything I did – how many steps I took, what was my activity level per hour, how was my heart beating… Everything. I enjoyed watching how many calories I burnt, how well I slept and how my weight and BMI changed over a period of time. It was the best thing that could happen to me I thought. The app was very user friendly. I could even measure whether I had enough water and whether I ate healthy food. I started feeding all this information in the app voluntarily and enjoyed looking at the analytics. It was fun but not for too long.
Soon I realised that instead of me possessing Fitbit, Fitbit had possessed me. As soon as I opened my eyes, I would look at the app to measure how well I slept. Instead of drinking water when I am thirsty, I would wait for the app to prompt me. Instead of asking my body whether I had enough exercise, I started to look at my step count.
In short, I had lost connection with my body. I measured everything, felt nothing. I should drink water when I felt thirsty. I should stop exercise when I felt tired. Instead, I was over-relying on a measurement instrument.
This is no way to live, I thought. The device did inculcate good habits in me, it helped to attain my active life style but I was falling prey to over-measurement. This led me to be disconnected from my gut feeling and connection with inner self.
Thats when I remembered the fundamental principle that I learnt in Engineering. The principle said - the measurement device should not alter the original parameter you are trying to measure. In this case, the measurement instrument was completely changing my mindset. That definitely wasn’t the intent. I needed to make some change.
One day, I simply didn’t wear it back. Now I feel like a free bird. I am still as active as before, I still know how many calories I burnt and how well I sleep, but I don’t measure it, just feel it. I have just left my over-measured life behind and feel more connected to self. I feel more, measure less.
This newly acquired good habit has rubbed off on other aspects of life too. Now I have stopped counting how many likes I get for my Facebook post or how many comments I have received for my profile picture or how long a person has taken to read my Whatsapp message. Measuring such petty things made me feel unappreciated and unhappy. As soon as I stopped measuring them, I felt appreciated.
Since then I follow a simple rule to avoid over-measured life : Don’t measure anything, that your inner self can feel!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Is success tiring you?

Every success, whether big or small, has its own price to pay. Success brings limelight & recognition not without hard work and exhaustion. A few months back, I was re-discovering this the hard way. The success was sweet but I had to pay heavy price - my health. At work, I had started several projects to reach my goals. I wanted to be ahead of all others and wanted to leave no stone unturned in my quest. Each project required tremendous efforts, dedication and focus. I felt it was all worth it because each project was successful. The spiral of success was pulling me inside and I was running with all my energy. I wanted to reach the top at shortest possible time, so I was running harder and harder.
Like world of physics is governed by Newton’s laws, Corporate world is governed by Murphy’s laws. Out of several Murphy’s laws which derail your plans, one law that clearly stands out is “When everything is going smooth, you have overlooked something very important.” In my case, it turned out to be my health. All successful initiatives were taking a toll on my health. I was working non-stop often feeling tired, fatigued, irritable. I had stopped exercising, meals were irregular. Global initiatives meant, con-calls at unearthly hours causing lack of sleep. No matter how hard I wanted to run, I could not. I fell ill and doctor strongly advised me to improve my lifestyle.
That is when I decided to take a break and go for a trek in the Himalayas. We had a strict exercise regime. I had to work hard to get back in shape and improve my stamina and endurance. I started exercising with the same sincerity and rigor that I showed at work. Slowly but surely I got back in shape and exercise regime worked.
The trek was most enjoyable. Being closer to nature and un-connected from internet gave me enough time to reflect on my challenges. It was almost like meditation which helped me listen to my inner voice and sort out my priorities. Little did I know that the trek would also teach me something about the way I was chasing success.
This learning came on the toughest day in our trek - we had to cross the highest pass in our trek which was located above 17,000 ft above sea level and later walk for another 4 hours. It was cold, windy and air had 25% less oxygen. We had to fight all adverse situations and cross the pass.
I was upto the challenge. I started on an upbeat note. I started walking as fast as I could, just like I was chasing my projects at work. I wanted to reach the peak as fast as I could. I was a man in hurry, I was worried that if I don’t keep the speed I may fall behind or worse still I may not even make it to the peak.
Initially, it felt good, I was making good progress but soon my legs started tiring and I suffered from shortness of breath. Soon, I was so tired that I could not take even one step forward and had to rest to catch my breath. That is when the most experienced trekker walked up to me and said, “What is the hurry dear! You are walking too fast. That is not sustainable.”
“I don’t want to be left behind”, I said.
“You would be left behind if keep running like this. Slow down. Find your own natural speed.”
“My own speed! What does that mean?”
“It’s the speed at which you don’t feel tired. The speed at which you don’t feel like stopping. The speed at which you can enjoy walking.”
“But that will be too slow?”, I said in bewilderment.
“You don’t have a choice. That is the only speed you can sustain.”
I was introspecting.
He started walking past me as he said,”When you are crossing that pass, you are not competing with anyone else. You are competing with yourself. You could win only if you walk with your natural speed.”
I realised he was walking very slowly, almost at a negligible pace. But he was comfortable, able to look around, admire the beauty and smell the roses.
I was still short on breath so I had no other choice but to follow my fellow trekker’s advice. His advice sounded profound. I remembered a quote by confucius, which so far had made no sense to me - It does not matter how slow you walk towards your goal, as long as you don’t stop. I got up and started walking slowly. Small steps at low speed made the walk enjoyable. Rather than thinking about the peak,  I started looking at breathtaking views around. I heard cooing of birds and noticed rabbit-like animals jumping around. The glaciers look relaxing and the grass looked greener. I started enjoying the journey than worrying about the destination. I didn’t care whether I was falling behind or leading the pack. All I cared about was whether I was walking with natural speed or not. I had to ensure I don’t tire myself up.
Needless to say, my team leader’s advice worked like a magic and I crossed the highest pass without getting tired. It was a great feeling. I had stopped competing with others and started competing with myself. I had stopped running and worked on finding my natural speed. That made the success very enjoyable.
This was the turning point in the trek that helped me to set my work-life right. I came back to work refreshed and charged up. But I didn’t start running like I did before. Instead, I worked on finding the natural speed of each initiative, each team and each project. If I could keep moving with that natural speed, I reckoned, I would enjoy my journey not just the destination, like I did at my highest mountain pass.
So, if your success is tiring you up, probably you are running too hard. Stop, take a break and find your natural speed - speed at which you wouldn’t get tired, speed at which you can enjoy the journey and not just worry about reaching the destination, speed at which you could smell roses on the way. Go find it!!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dichotomy of Krishna’s love

Last week I had a pleasure of watching a colorful, artistic, surreal, opera-like musical play  - The Rajput Princess. It was a story of the divine love between Meera - the princess and Lord Krishna. Although, artists were amateur dancers and singers who weaved a magic around us for a couple hours. The play made a deep impression on my mind.

The play refreshed the story of Meera-Krishna in my mind. While attending a wedding ceremony curious young meera asks her mother who her husband was. Her mother points to a temple of Lord Krishna and says he is your husband. Meera assumes this as truth and grows up thinking about Krishna and hearing his stories all the time. Astonishingly, without seeing Krishna in person, Meera falls in love with him and declares to her husband on the wedding day that her heart belongs to Krishna. The large-hearted husband builds a Krishna temple for her and accepts her love as a part of their life. However, his father and brother can not accept seeing Meera in love with Krishna. Meera’s husband gets killed in a war. The jealous father and brother ask Meera to leave the palace. Meera has to spend the rest of her life as a simpleton going through all the worldly hardships but her love for Krishna sees her through. Her mystical, heavenly love makes sure she remains happy despite worldly miseries.

This play reminded me all the stories of Hindu Gods I grew up with. Out of all Gods, Krishna is the most interesting. Everything about him is unconventional. He is mischievous, political, bends rules, in short he does everything that other Gods don’t. Above all, Krishna stands out as the most woman-friendly God. Krishna is a woman-magnet. Ever since his adolescence, woman got attracted to him. Radha who was a married woman fell in love with him. So did many other gopis in Gokul where he grew up. In raas-leela, a festival in which all women come and do a folk dance, every single gopi felt that she is dancing with Krishna. Fascinating isn’t it? As a king Krishna had many wives and yet he was a subject of romance for many other women.

When I wear my analytical hat, I find these stories absolutely amazing. Krishna seemed to have a magical effect on women who would confess about their love despite their marital status. Considering conservative Indian societies, this was unheard off. But their love was so powerful that woman were ready to break the conventions. Another puzzling thing about Krishna’s women was they all knew the existence of other women in his life but they didn’t seem to mind. All gopis in Gokul knew others loved him and he loved Radha the most. But that didn’t deter them from liking and loving him. They were never jealous with each other. They were in love with him together.

The reason why this play had deep impact on me is, it highlighted the flip-side of Krishna’s love. Most women who loved Krishna had to pay a price for it. Some of them like Meera, drew societal wrath. They were publicly shamed, often isolated. More they loved Krishna, more difficulties they had to face. Krishna’s love gave them mental strength but worldly hardships. Some others like Radha, loved him dearly, may have fancied their chances of being with him forever. But never came close to being there. More they try to hold on to it, more it slipped out of hand. And there were many gopis who loved him unconditionally, despite knowing that they have no real chance of getting him. Yet, they could not stop.

Loving Krishna meant an extreme sacrifices for his women. That’s the dichotomy of Krishna’s love.