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 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!! 

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!