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For Yesterday’s Pakwan, Today’s Kachori and Tomorrow’s Dal Bati

No one ever tells you, it’s OK to fail. It’s humans’ innate nature to want to succeed and excel at everything they do. But when things seem impossible and you are ready to give up, if you get even one person who motivates you to go that extra mile, it makes all the difference in the world. This is a true story of few such people who have made a lasting impact in my life. For a person like me, who never exerts himself, it comes as a tough choice to trek or not to trek. You see all these people hiking to exotic locations with dense forests filled with colorful birds, waterfalls glistening in the summer sun, fluorescent white snow shining bright under the moonlight and you wish, “How cool would it be, if I could be there too?” But then you wake up next morning on routine and get ready for work, slog through the day to make ends meet, just so that you do not get chucked out at the end of day, due to some super powered nation’s crappy economy status, brought about by a bullying leader, making irresponsible decisions, claiming they are making their country great again. (P.S. If you have not figured it out already, I work for an IT firm and slog 14 hours a day on weekdays and go in to hibernation mode on the weekends.)

 

To top it all, I have an amazing set of friends who are equally lazy or substantially lazier than me. So, it’s a harder choice to make, if it requires me to do something physical, especially when they tempt you to a chilled out evening at a cozy pub with amazing food and top it with a midnight ice cream snack in the end, as an alternative to getting weary and sweaty after a strenuous physical ordeal at some unknown location, disconnected from modern civilization. But then again, for reasons we still don’t understand, we take some decisions at 3 AM in the morning (possibly high) and try to make sense of it all the next morning. It was one such day, around midnight that I decided to do the trek in the Himalayas and to this date, I do not know why I decided upon it. (In retrospect, I am thankful for those brief moments of insanity what led me to go through with it.) I had an open invite from the Coimbatore Adventure Club (CAC) to join them for a trek in the Himalayas with a group called Junoon Adventure on JT2 trek to Gwaru Nala. I had this over powering emotion to do something different with my life and break away from the mundane cycle of eat-sleep-work (even if it was for just a week). I have a habit to back out of things, if I overthink. So, I texted the trek Leaders Besant and Thoshy, that I am joining the trek. Paid them Rs.5000/- in advance to confirm my place and booked my flight tickets to Delhi (which cost me another 10-15k). This was my power packed midnight plan, assuming that if I have invested in it, I will not be able to back out. Oh! You should have seen the look on my face the next day, once I tried to recall what I had done the previous night and make sense of it all. It was priceless!

 

Now consider this folks, you have a fluffy (Yes, that’s the politically correct term. It’s rude to call someone fat) chump who has never done anything physical in his life, add to it a fear of reptiles and creepy crawlies, combine it with the temperatures of south India that we are so very accustomed to (35- 40 degrees Celsius) and has nothing set for the trek, no trekking shoes, no hiking gear, no water proof clothing that fits, no camping bag/ruck sack – NOTHING! -but has just registered for a high altitude trek up to 3400 meters above sea level for a distance of nearly 40 kilometers up and down a mountain, filled with slippery rocks, unknown wildlife, freezing snow, bare minimal comforts and completely disconnected for modern civilization. So, I encourage you to do the math on what the odds were of me completing the trek and looking like those absurdly enthusiastic people, jumping with joy at a mountain summits are? I was filled with apprehension, could I really do this? I’ve never camped in subzero temperatures, never walked more than 3 kilometers a day on flat land, always stayed in an air conditioned room at a comfortable 24 degrees and all of a sudden, I had to do something completely out of my comfort zone and test myself in ways I’ve never tested myself before. I was so nervous that I spoke to my parents about it (That’s what scared little Indian boys do – run to their mommies). When I told them that I had registered for a high altitude mountain trek at the foot hills of the Himalayas and the first thing my mom told me was, “You can’t do this. You are not fit enough.” She told me things about myself that I already knew. But it was harder listening to the facts from her, than mulling things over in my head. So, there was only one logical conclusion to all this. I had to back the hell out! By then, The CAC and Team Junoon members had created a WhatsApp and added all of the registered members so that we could start interacting and get the necessary instructions from the leaders of the trek and my first post to them read, “Hi Guys, I am new to this group. I am not sure if I am fit enough for this trek and you need to help me out, if I am going to make it through the trip.” (I deliberately did not say, “I want to back out.” or “Could you get me a refund?”, on my first message to the team. It would have sounded very rude of me – But of course I was planning to bring it up in the subsequent chats.) For which an organizer from Team Junoon (Mishi) replied on the lines of– “You have nothing worry Vikas. You are in good hands. Thoshy, Besant, and Yog sir are there to help you throughout and we will take care of everything that is necessary.” Now, I was curious and taken aback by how confidently and quickly Mishi replied to my concern. Could they really get me back home in one piece? Could I sincerely give it a try or would I regret doing this, if something were to go wrong and I lay crippled on my bed for the rest of my life? But there was something about her reply that rang a small voice in my head, “May be I can do this. May be I really can.” For some reason, I decided to trust the goodness of the universe and did not back out, just yet. As the trip neared, the trek leaders posted notes on the necessary equipment that were essential and needed to be carried, the fitness regime to be followed for the next few weeks (which I desperately tried to follow but failed miserably) and the rules and regulations of the trek and camp. In the meantime, I had some deep discussions with my managers to grant me 4 days leave while I continued to work diligently through the week to show everything was going smooth in office, spent my weekends hunting along the many aisles of Decathlon for the required gear and before you knew it, I was on a flight to Delhi ready for my first big adventure in India.

 

By now, you must know, I am not among the fittest of participants in the hike. But on seeing the mix of people ranging from school kids to very senior folks who were accompanying me on the trek, I got a strong boost of confidence. Maybe, I would not be the first person to die on the trek after all. (Ironically, I later realized, they were all considerably fitter than me.) But now I wanted to see how they could keep me motivated and moving forward. That’s when I met Yog sir. For all those who watch movies, I am sure most you would have seen Kung Fu Panda. Now, Junoon Adventure’s Yog sir was Master Oogway. The one who called himself old but could kick ass! And I felt like the chubby panda, which was chosen as the Dragon warrior and my greatest enemy was – not Tai Lung, but stairs. (Well, rudimentary stairs – mountain foot path, to be more accurate). In the same analogy, Thoshy was the crane – who would fly off in the front of the group and guide everyone forward, Besant was the Mantis – who was small but definitely packed a punch with everything he did, Naveen was the Viper – he could slither back and forth helping everyone in the group, Bipin was the monkey – jumping around clicking pictures of everyone and Sandy was the Tigress – the strong one motivating everyone to move forward! But the most important of them all, Master Shifu was Mishi. (To add reference to context, Yog, Mishi, Thoshy, Besant, Naveen, Sandy and others were all part of the organizing committee and trek leaders, who would help me survive the next couple of days in the wilderness.) And this is no joke, I needed a lot of handholding and this team did it with utmost care.

 

Unlike the others, I could barely walk 10 steps up the cliff, before I started puffing and panting. Even in the small acclimatization trek in Jagatsukh, I was the last one to the top (although I was unstoppable going down). So, they had to find ways to motivate me to climb. Now, the reason why I said, Master Shifu was the most important of them all was because in the movie, Master Shifu would find a unique way to train Po (the Panda) in the ways of Kung fu, through food. Likewise, Mishi had a personal agenda to make me climb, by enticing me with food. Yog sir and others caught on to this unique routine and gave me crazy instructions like, “The next poori break would be after we crossed the glacier”. The meals provided were so mouthwatering that, I did cross the glacier just to eat them. I am not trying to oversell it. But the food was indeed so good, that I’d walk up and down the hill, just to eat what they served. Every meal was from a different cuisine. One meal was Sindhi with Dal Pakwan, the next meal was south Indian with Idly and sambar, the next was Chinese with noodles and Manchurian, the next was kachori and achari paneer. You name it, we had it. (Well, it was all vegetarian though. So the carnivorous bunch missed a bit of their usual food – but since I was a vegetarian, I enjoyed it the most.) In retrospect, to me, the trek was more like an insanely huge trek themed restaurant, where we had to walk miles to eat our next meal. But we all ate to our heart’s content. The food was so delicious that I started walking faster, just to reach early and eat that extra serving. Not that food was ever in short supply, it’s just the happiness of eating hot mouthwatering meals in subzero temperatures that made everything worth it. And unlike those people jumping with joy at the summit, I enjoyed it my own unique way, filling my tummy with hot Dal Bati Churma and Chola Batoora at each mountain peak instead.

 

No doubt the scenic route that we took on our JT2 trek to Gwaru Nala, made us trek though maple forests, apple orchards, frozen glaciers, walnut forests, snowy mountains and refreshingly cold streams and waterfalls, so we did experience most of what those avid travelers posting pictures, doing insanely adventurous stunts, experienced. That will definitely be a milestone in my life and I have the pictures to prove them too. But more importantly (at least to me) we had the advantage of eating good wholesome food throughout the trek, which made it all the more enjoyable. So, to relive those fond memories of foodgasm atop the snowcapped mountain, I would definitely hike with CAC and Junoon Adventure on JT2 treks again. (Well, to see the mountains and forests too but you get my drift.)