Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Why I Hike!

My family, my friends, my colleagues and even my doctor and my physiotherapist often wonder why I choose to hike despite Fibromyalgia. The training before a big trek is hard enough and the treks I undertake are never easy and after every trek my pain goes up significantly. While I have answered this question in parts, I felt it is time to pen it down in its entirety.

1st reason and this is the most obvious – I hike because I love mountains and the proximity that I seek with them cannot be achieved by going to a hill station and staying in resorts. I love the way rivers gush at speed through the narrow valleys, I marvel at the towering white beauties and the way their peaks look like molten gold when bathed in the rays of the early morning sun. The closer you get to nature, the farther you will be from comforts. So I give up soft bed, hot water and attached western toilets – because that is the only way to experience the true beauty of the Himalayan landscape.

Yes, tents are not the most convenient but they are the best if you love the sound of a river flowing by, birds chirping in the morning and sun waking you up while lighting up the mountain tops. The best part, though, is the view of the Milky Way on a moonless night - this view is possible only at a campsite far away from light pollution of the habitation. The billions of stars shining down at you is an unparalleled experience!

2.  I enjoy the company of fellow hikers – after spending many years in corporate world, it’s refreshing to be in an environment that is not competitive. We all carry similar gear, wear similar clothes and have to eat the same food :) - all that is distinctive is our back grounds and our personalities. The variety of humanity that one comes across during treks is incomparable to any other activity. And the best part is that everyone is willing to help – be it sharing the name of a lodge they loved or a side day trek they enjoyed or even some medicine that another hiker is in need of. I have never seen one hiker refusing help to another.

3. It puts things in perspective – Nepal or any other hilly region that you may choose to trek in the Himalayan belt are rich in natural beauty but not in material comforts. People there do very hard work for minimal wages – it’s a harsh terrain that doesn’t lend itself to even vegetation after a certain altitude. Humans carry 30-60 kilos of load just to earn a living. The kids have to walk many kilometers to attend school and one has to fetch water from a source when plumbing becomes scarce. And yet, I don’t find them complaining – I chat with porters & kitchen staff a lot and I never find them grumpy or upset.

On a recent hike, our main chef went hungry for lunch as food got over before he could reach the lunch spot. When he reached the destination for the day, he handed me the apple he had in his backpack because he knew I was hungry. I didn’t know he had an apple and he was hungrier than me – he still chose to give me same!!! When I see the hardships the locals face, I realize I how lucky I am and when I notice their response to those hardships, I know I have a long way to go in learning the equanimity that they exhibit so effortlessly every day!

4. No worrying about tomorrow – The itinerary would outline the tough days and easy days (in terms of distance or terrain) but weather can change those definitions for you. An easy day can feel hard because of the relentless rain or the scorching heat or fresh snow. On the other hand a tough day may not feel that bad because you got the perfect weather for the climb.

The key is not to think about what tomorrow will bring your way, the only way to enjoy the hike is staying in today – soak in that sunshine while it lasts, enjoy the hot meal till you have gas for the stove, play in the fresh snow without worrying how hard will it make your climb next morning once it starts to melt.

The treks always remind me how to enjoy the moment, live in the present and leave the tomorrow to tomorrow!
5. You start getting an idea of what Lord Krishna meant when he said, “कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥
Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana – You have the right to perform your actions, but you are not entitled to the fruits of the actions.
Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani – Do not let the fruit be the purpose of your actions, and therefore you won’t be attached to not doing your duty.

Yes, we always start with an objective of reaching a base camp, or crossing a pass or summiting a peak but honestly getting there is not in our hands. It is said that you don’t climb mountains, they let you climb them. So if it’s not in the scheme you won’t get to that pass or see the top of that mountain. However, you won’t get there at all if you don’t put any effort – so you walk every day for hours – in rain and in sunshine and in snowfall – all the while knowing that there is no guarantee that you will reach the point you intended to when you started this journey. 

On a trek, one starts to understand how attachment to the end result can be source of unnecessary grief and heartache. In all the hikes I have undertaken, there has been at least one person who didn’t make it to the top and it has been me couple of times. But that doesn’t dissuade me from planning my next hike because I am content in the knowledge that I put in my best efforts even though I “failed”. 

Despite my love for mountains and other reasons that make me hike, there are times when bad weather or extreme cold or plain fatigue make me question my sanity. But thankfully those moments don't last long enough :) and I am back in the mountains before the memory of the last visit fades!

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