There was an article in The Mint, a few days back on the first women’s team that summitted Mt. Nanda Devi (7816 m) in 1981. The article covered Chandra Prabha Aitwal and how she came to be a part of the women’s expedition that first summited. For a lucky few, destiny has designs while the rest of us have to find our calling. She came from a modest background, was average at school and was working as a govt teacher in a Girls College, Pithoragarh, India when she got an invitation to train at NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering -Uttarkashi) and from then on there was no looking back.
“I summited in darkness, but the moon was rising and, gradually, I could see the shimmering snow on the nearby slopes. Summitting has a different thrill associated with it, whether it’s in daylight or in the dark. You feel as if you’ve seen heaven; it cannot be put into words,” she says of her summitting experience.
I don’t know why reading this bought tears to my eyes. I tried to analyse my emotions and think about what moved me. Random thoughts went through my mind. I wondered if I could summit Nanda Devi? Could I see the glittering sky on the summit of these famed mountains? Did I have it in me? More importantly, did I want to do it? I thought again about what moved me. I realized that it was the moment of triumph described of an achievement so coveted, that seemed so prized to me. It was not the act of summiting the mountain but that of having achieved something in Life. Could I do something that made this life less ordinary? Would I have that moment of triump? Would I be able to look back on my life and let out a contented sigh that my life was stamped with a special achievement. I’m in the quest to find, set & achieve my GOAL. Something that is special to me and not just a pure possession. I’m thinking aloud as I write this. It should be challenging to get there – not something easily achievable. Not just any car but say a Rolls Royce. Not just any position in that organisation but that of the CEO. Not just any hill, but an Everest or a K2 or a Nanda Devi. It could be making a positive impact in the lives of people I know or don’t know. I’m looking for mine – that star to hitch my wagon to. Have you found/thought about yours?
Fire is considered sacred in the Hindu religion & it’s a part of many of our prayers and offerings to the Gods. India as many of you know has many festivals, mythological stories, ancient beliefs & rituals that form a part of our lives. One such wonderful joyous festival is that of Holi which we celebrate to welcome spring here. We use coloured powder and apply it to friends and acquaintances and there’s a general atmosphere of bonhomie all around. Just the night preceding Holi, we also burn a bonfire called ‘Holika’. This blog is about her and why we continue to burn ‘Holika’ every Holi. Holika was the demon sister of a demon king called Hiranyakashipu. The king hated Lord Vishnu, as Vishnu was responsible for killing his brother Hiranyaksha in his Varaha avataar (you can read more about the avataars of vishnu in an earlier bloghere) but his son Prahlad was a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu tried numerous methods to kill his son Prahlad, but each time the lord intervened and saved him. His sister Holika had a boon of remaining untouched by fire and so Hiranyakashipu prevailed upon his sister to take Prahlad into the fire and burn him, while she would escape unscathed. So on the night before Holi, Holika stepped into a fire made for the purpose of burning prahlad; but the maya (greatness) of the lord is such that she was burnt to ashes while Prahlad remained unhurt. The whole of the city had been assembled by the King to teach them a lesson that they would suffer a similar fate and be burnt if they prayed to Lord Vishnu. When Holika was burnt, the people rejoiced and their faith in the lord was made stronger than ever before. In India, we still burn the Holika the night before Holi and it’s symbolic for us wherein we wish that all the evil inside us & impure thoughts would be burnt and only good would remain in us forever.
The picture here is of the Holika being burnt in my building society before Holi in 2015.
Question: Why do people wish us ‘Happy Journey’when we’re undertaking one and not ‘Reach your destination, no matter how’. It’s obvious isn’t it because the quality of the journey matters most, not reaching the destination battered and bruised. I realized this with my first trek. Read on.
The first trek I undertook was in 2013 and it was to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal (referred to as EBC henceforth). It’s at 5380 m or 17,600 ft and can be reached by trekking for 10-11 days by foot or of course by helicopters. One doesn’t use choppers because the long trek helps in acclimatization & reaching directly is not a wise thing to do unless you’ve acclimatized already and are pushing for the summit. Back to the trek, I really don’t know how and why this happened but life plans for us whether we do or not. I never was into trekking but a close friend was into it and I would listen to all his stories always wondering if I would ever find trekking as exciting. He was the one to always push me to consider trekking but surprisingly on this one trek, he wasn’t the motivator. It was through another friend who was looking at completing a group of 15 people for the trek, that the seeds of a trek to EBC were first sown.Somehow, it seemed like something worth achieving than just the enjoyment of trekking – Everest does have that aura, doesn’t it?! I thought, if I have to try a trek, why not this one? And so I found myself seriously contemplating the trek. My husband was equally keen to do it and so we decided we’d go for it. From then on, there’s been no looking back. Trekking is now an essential activity – and its difficult not to trek at least a couple of times in the year (the week-long ones).
We were told that EBC (at 5380 m or 17,600 ft) wasn’t an easy trek but something that wasn’t very tough either – so beginners could attempt it provided they had the mental strength to plod on. It’s a 11-13 day end to end trek including 8 days of ascent and 2 of descent & a couple of days at Kathmandu. Getting to Namche on day 2 and then Tengbouche on day 4 (post an additional day of acclimatization at Namche) were the tough parts, but if one could do that, the rest was not so difficult. So I set out, determined to make it to Namche no matter what! I knew if I could do Namche, then I’d complete the trek.
And Namche I did conquer. It wasn’t easy but I guess I was mentally prepared and the ‘baby steps’ rule worked wonders. I completed the rest of the trek to EBC and when we crossed over to the Base camp post the long walk over the moraine, it felt like a huge achievement especially considering that we walked from Labouche straight to the Base camp & then back to Gorakshep on that day. That day was challenging for me because I had unwittingly eaten a tuna egg sandwich for breakfast when we took a break at Gorakshep, before starting for the base camp and gosh, thanks to that I spent a lot of time squatting behind the rocks that one way! It was tough, I was getting tired and dehydrated faster but I kept on. Of all the people who were with us, my husband never flinched even once when I told him for the nth time that I needed to go again. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that. We finally reached EBC around 1-1.30 pm tired and at the end of our strength. I hugged my husband, without whom I would not have been able to complete it. Over the past 10 days he had kept pace with me, slowed down when I went slow, checked on me when I was feeling unwell, never complained and stood behind me like a rock. A few tears rolled down my cheek involuntarily standing there – 10 days of continuous plodding had brought us to our destination. I was exhausted and there was a sense of relief in me. I guess I felt like a marathoner running his first 42 km run. Tired, pushing his limits and egging himself on to finally reach the finish line. I looked up in wonder at the small pyramid-shaped peak barely visible to us (since we were up close) about 3 kms away vertically. I felt an amazing sense of veneration for Mt Everest. I remember feeling overwhelmed when I had seen her from Tengbouche for the first time. I had read about her in the text books in school and a bit on blogs and articles before my trek, but never had I imagined that I would get to set my eyes on the worlds tallest mountain in person! My eyes tried to look up and follow the western cwm and across the kumbhu glacier breaking out with craters and crevasses. It had definitely been worth it. We clicked a few pictures, stayed for a while trying to get the moment to sink in and then started back .
All through this journey, I was forced to walk slow and stop frequently to catch my breath because my physical fitness did not allow me to trek faster. Even though I walked slower and stopped frequently, unfortunately I did not see many sights or take in all the beauty around me. My mind was constantly thinking of how tired I was, whether I’d be able to make it to the next stop, how late would it be when we reached, where was the next loo, etc etc. When you’re tired- slightly fatigued, you miss out on the beauty around you.
Of course, there were beautiful moments that registered, of walking through the Rhododendron forest, over the 2nd really high bridge before Namche watching the Kosi river below, my first glimpse of Everest (which I’ll never forget for as long as I live) and of the beautiful Ama Dablam. The broad wind-swept valley of Periche with slight snow falling as we walked back from Gorakshep (post the EBC victory), the Thukla Dukla pass & momuments to the brave moutaineers who’d lost their lives in Everest. I remember all of these and much more, but I do wish I had been more aware & alive to my surroundings – I wished I had enjoyed the trek with abandon with my mind only ‘here & now’. I think to myself often, that I’ll defintely do EBC again, just to relive the whole trek again but this time being fully present to the beauty of the place.
The Periche Valley
The Bridge crossings before Namche
Post that trek I realised that trekking teaches you one of the most important principles of life. It asks you to question – Will reaching my destination give me that Happiness (the one I expect) or is enjoying the journey as important?
Think about it. We all want happiness in life. It believe it will come when we get that coveted position at work, or buy that BMW or when we have that figure in the bank. But will that really happen. NO. It’ll be momentary. Instead if you live life such that happiness becomes your state of mind independent of your current status or possessions. If you just decide to accept & enjoy the beauty of life – the daily commute, the occasional muddle, the little joys; life becomes a happy journey.
Improve your life’s journey – don’t wait to reach the destination. The question I’ve asked at the beginning of the blog, I had read in ‘Happiness Unlimited – Awakening with the Brahmakumaris’. The book is a must read for everyone & it’s easily available on Amazon.
It always amazes me to see the confluence of 2 rivers. Each bringing its own distinct colour, identity and finally creating a combination of their colours, matching their speed eventually as they flow down the mountains gently to the sea. Partners aren’t they?
This picture is of ‘Nand Prayag’, the confluence or prayag (as called in Hindi) of the Alaknanda & the Nandakini rivers.
Summer vacations are on in India & as usual parents (including myself) have a long list of the things/skills we want our children to accomplish in the short window of 2 months. There’s Swimming, Cycling, Skating, Drawing, Robotics (the ever-growing list of skills) to be learnt. But what disturbs me is that parents who want their children to learn so as to live creative fulfilling satisfying lives, do not spare a thought about their own life or growth. For a lot of us, our learning stopped with us becoming adults (and more so post parenthood for we had another life to be responsible towards).
Learning comes with the requirements of taking time out, moving out of your comfort zone, facing your fears and dealing with new situations and people. Some of us can’t even bear the thought of trying out something new 🙂 When I suggested to a friend of mine to take up cycling recently, she was appalled and said “Pagal hai kya! Nai re baba, I’m happy watching my serials at night and sleeping peacefully. Who wants any change?”Anything new is viewed with fear, suspicion and even ridicule. I’ve often heard comments ” You suffering a mid-life crisis? ” 🙂 So we want no risk, just happy to be left alone to continue leading that predictable life.
But that’s not life. What about living life to the fullest? Isn’t to Live – actually to Learn & Grow throughout? Isn’t it important to continue our evolution? Learn new skills, New matter, Feel New emotions, Meet New people?
Try and remember that thrill when you first learnt to balance on that bicycle or swim without that float. Wasn’t it exhilarating? Wasn’t it something you just kept doing over and over again till you were exhausted? Get that zest back in life (for time is short)-pick up a new hobby like photography or music. Or take up trekking or some new form of fitness. Or join some new art/ yoga group to meet new people. Learn driving now if you haven’t so far – same goes for cycling or swimming or even skating. I know that a lot of us do some new things once in a while & change our routine but I mean Doing something that tests & challenges you again and again & makes you feel young and new.
Every learning still gives that thrill – you just need to sign up for life again.
Nature amazes me and so does our Earth. Some mountain formations are so awe inspiring that one wonders if they’re man-made. But in such far flung isolated areas and with such imperfection (i.e no symmetry) that one realizes it has to be natural.
One such wonder to me (though I’m sure there will be some scientific explanation to this) are ‘One tree hills’, where for some strange reason one finds only one tree on top and none other. Is it because this one took up all the resources (like cactus they say) or that it dared to do what none of the others tried or could?
I look for these and shoot these. Would love to see more pics from the community here and the location would be an added treat. This one shot here is in the Sahayadri hills in Western India close to Nasik. Earthy – Earth