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Rediff.com  » Getahead » This Is Why I Trek!

This Is Why I Trek!

By MAYUR SANAP
Last updated on: February 24, 2023 14:09 IST
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Trekking is a way to bond with nature.

Some do it as an adventure sport. Some as escapism or hobby. While some view it -- as strange as it may sound -- as a fun weight-reduction programme.

For me, I can best describe trekking as meditation.

Being amidst the huge mountains, you feel humility emerging within you. You become acutely aware of how minuscule your existence is in this grand scheme of things. In the company of these mountains, the sound of silence is so relaxing and it is an incomparable feeling.

Your problems suddenly become smaller than they appear. But you don’t feel defeated by this overwhelming emotion; in fact, it makes you feel empowered as it awakens your senses.

It is truly a transformative experience.

I've always been fascinated by the mountains. But trekking happened to me more recently.

My first Himalayan trek was in November 2018 in Himachal Pradesh's Mcleodganj. It was the Triund trek. I tagged along with couple of guys I befriended at the local hostel and we embarked on this popular local trail.

Little did I know that this experience was going to change my perspective of trekking forever. Until this point, I would see trekking as a futile activity. 'Why go through a hustle just to see the mountains which you anyway get to view from your hotel's window?' I would think.

How wrong was I.

As I reached to the top on my first trek, I witnessed the grandiosity of the Dhauladhar range up close and I remember going comfortably numb. In fact, tears rolled down my cheeks, unknowingly. I was so enamoured with the majesty of the sight of the Himalayan peaks kissing the sky. I went through a range of emotions I didn't know how to articulate at that point.

It was a cathartic moment. I just knew that I would be doing the activity more often.

IMAGE: The heartstopping beauty of the Himalayas as seen from Chandra Taal (not in the picture). All photographs: Mayur Sanap/Rediff.com

But trekking is a daunting task -- not just physically, but mentally too.

It is an endurance sport that typically consists of three gradients: Easy, moderate, and difficult. Mind you, even an easy-level trek can feel strenuous if you are not well prepared.

A great way to equip yourself for this challenge is to bid goodbye to the sedentary lifestyle. This could also be a good reason to pursue trekking because it germinates the idea of fitness within you. At least that's what happened to me.

My love for the mountains made me embrace positive lifestyle changes so I could enjoy the challenges of trekking more effortlessly.

Right after the remarkable experience of Triund, I enrolled myself for Uttarakhand's famed Kedarkantha trek in a group, during the peak winter months. I chose to go with a group because it was going to be my first brush with snow and I wanted to understand the nitty-gritty of snow trekking.

I relished the whole affair. Since it was January, the entire valley was covered in a thick sheet of snow and it had turned into an icy dreamland.

Making our way up through treacherous snowy byways, in the bone-chilling cold, was as taxing as it was fun. Despite these many impediments, the communication that you establish with nature while walking down a trail feels deeply personal and cleansing.

bijlee mahadev

IMAGE: The dissipating clouds as it begins to pour during my Kheerganga trek in Kasol, near Kullu.

I also realised that perhaps the better way to go about trekking is doing it either solo or in a closed group. Your safety is critical during the expedition, but that can be taken care of if you hire a local villager as a guide. They usually know the best routes and quiet spots that are away from the routes of the mainstream crowd.

Since Kedarkantha (not to be confused with the Kedarnath shrine) is a popular trail, there were hordes of people from many other groups which gave me mixed feelings about commercialisation in the Himalayas.

On the one hand, booming tourism creates better-earning prospects for the locals in this otherwise opportunity-scarce region. On the other, the fragile ecosystem up there is unable handle such congestion. With no proper organisation in place, reckless tourism in the region has lead to bottlenecks on every trail during peak season.

Sadly, this is robbing the Himalayas of its charm and is an urgent issue for us and the authorities to address.

IMAGE: Bonding over a hot meal with trekmates inside a cosy alpine tent.

After attempting treks in diverse topographies like the Western Ghats, the Nilgiris, the Arvallis, and, of course, the Himalayas, I feel the more I trek, the more I want to go out and explore. Kedarkantha was a definitive experience as a solo trekker.

Trekking on your own offers thrills and the confidence to negotiate unexpected challenges. Whenever I am travelling to different states, I make a point to do at least one trek because that gives me a real sense of that place.

It also feels great to break away from your comfort zone and meet people coming from other walks of life. More often than not, I find it easy to connect with fellow trekkers because of the like-mindedness and similar interests. It is also quite fascinating to know their stories and understand their passion for trekking.

During my Sandakphu-Phalut trek in Darjeeling, I bumped into a 40-something lady from Kolkata whose reason to embark on the trek was because of a certain medical condition. She was severely ill for months. Her medical reports were mostly normal and nothing terrible was detected.

Upon further checkups, it was deduced that she was suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. The doctor immediately prescribed her regular outdoor activities to boost immunity with sun exposure.

Her close friend, a trekker himself, suggested she start hiking. She started with brief walks and moved to short hikes, only to turn into an ardent trekker a few years later.

The mountains really teach you patience and persistence. You also tend to be appreciative of the little things around you. You learn so much about yourself than no relationship would ever enlighten you about, such is the magic of being at an elevation.

IMAGE: Momos in the making! This father-son duo runs a tiny eatery in Mane Bhanjang, a picturesque hamlet on the Sandakphu trek route.

It is not just the mountains. It is the warmth of mountain people too.

They are some of the most amazing human beings you can ever meet. They have a brilliantly positive vibe. They are shy, but welcoming. And content with the small things in life.

When you trek with a group or even if you are soldiering along as a solo trekker, you meet the locals and even become friends with them, because they are really that easy-going!

Once I was on a morning speed hike in Manali and as I descended I saw this large group of villagers, who were having breakfast together. It was such a lovely sight.

I curiously asked one of them if this was some kind of ritual. I was told the men of the house were being fed before they went in the forest to stock up on firewood for the fast-approaching winter season.

I was then lovingly invited to join the group for a hearty meal of Chana Poori, halwa and chai. This unexpected interaction turned out to be the highlight of my trip.

I am sure every trekker has a lovely anecdote to share about the mountain folks that's a testament to their epic hospitality. The generosity, convivial nature and the humanity of any pahadi will fill you with joy.

IMAGE: An unforgettable Chana Poori experience.

Food for me is another star attraction while trekking. Having pahado wali Maggie is blasphemy to me if you prefer it over local delicacies. What could possibly be better than a deliciously sweet local fruit as an energy booster?

I often prefer a homestay to experience indigenous living. With that comes the opportunity to find out about local eating habits.

I had never seen buckwheat bread until a lady in the Spiti Valley served it to me with salted butter tea. Same with an absolutely divine Himachali dish called Siddu or steamed stuffed buns served with chutney, that I first had in Manali.

I had never heard of the concept of Himachali Dham until I feasted on one in the Chamba Valley. On a mountain yatra or pilgrimage tucking into five dishes are sacrosanct -- black dal (black gram dal), chana dal (Bengali gram dal) with greens, dahi kadhi (yoghurt curry) and khatta or sweet and sour black chana (black chickpeas).

Or the fact that pork is the preferred meat over chicken and lamb in Sikkim!

These experiences offer a window into our rich and varied food culture that's a reflection of the wonderful heterogeneity of India.

IMAGE: This cutely named Himachali dish is Siddu. It is a kind of stuffed bread with a mildly-spiced filling of peanuts and walnut. I was told, no Siddu is ever eaten without a dollop of ghee on top of it!

I hope more people experience 'mountain therapy' by doing a trek at least once in their lifetime.

There might be difficulties or setbacks -- sure -- but the end result is highly rewarding as you go through the transformationor awakening from within. It unlocks a number of adventures that will make your memory tank richer.

We overcome fears and as Sir Edmund Hillary said, 'It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves'.

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MAYUR SANAP