Even though I had travelled a lot with my parents when I was a kid, I hadn’t really done any travelling since I came to Bangalore. Sadly enough, it would be 8 long years before I would go for my first trip out of Bangalore. After that first trip, it would take another 5 years before I started travelling regularly. This is the story of how the past 7 years almost didn’t happen and I almost never got into travelling.
Back in 2012, I had a friend who had a very interesting past. He had been a Jesuit priest and worked a lot in Nepal before getting married and settling down in Bangalore. We met as colleagues and soon started meeting and socialising a lot. During one of these sessions, he happened to mention to me that he used to trek a fair amount in Nepal.
This got my attention, and I would love sitting and listening to his tales of how they – he and some other priests – would just pick up their backpacks and go for a long stroll in the hills. Now this was something I would love to try. I had never been trekking before but had always loved the mountains.
Getting ready for my first trek
I was excited now. I was going to go do something that was adventurous and in the mountains. There, however, was one tiny problem. I didn’t know anything about trekking. I didn’t even know whom to approach to get some direction or what to search for. So, I did what everyone does. I went online and set about doing research. In a short period of time, I had found out what I wanted to know.
I had the name of a company that conducted such treks, and it seemed to have a good reputation. I had identified which trek I wanted to go for. I then got busy gathering all the supplies that would be needed (mostly, the gear I would be needing on the trek). Next came the logistics of the trip: booking the flights, buses and hotels.
The plan was to join the June 2013 batch of the Roopkund trek. Once I had everything ready, all I needed to do was to wait for the appointed date to catch my flight to Delhi. There was just one last thing left to do. Complete the medical form and get it signed by a doctor.
So, one week before I was to leave, I made an appointment with a doctor and went to get my checkup done.
Misfortune pays me a visit
At the doctor’s office, I was checked for the usual stuff as indicators of good health. The doctor also asked me why I was getting this checkup and seemed quite pleased that I was going for a trek. He then asked the nurse to check my blood pressure. Once he had the reading, his first words were, “I’m sorry, in your condition, you can’t be allowed to go for this trek.”
He went on to explain that I was hypertensive, and my blood pressure was too high. He started quizzing me about my lifestyle to ascertain the contributing circumstances. I was rather surprised since I was already leading a fairly healthy life. I had just gotten into long-distance running some 8 months ago. I had also completed my first official 21 km run that February and had continued my running.
Hearing this, he told me that he wouldn’t be able to clear me for the trek in June but also that he wouldn’t put me on meds. He believed that with a few lifestyle changes and the exercise, I could keep the blood pressure under control. That said, I left his office, but I was determined to get another opinion.
I turned to a friend of mine whose father referred me to a friend of his. This person, also a doctor, turned out to be an old friend of my father’s. Two days after the first checkup, I was in the second doctor’s office. He also checked my BP and concurred with the first doctor’s findings. But I was not in an agreeable mood so I started quizzing him about how I could get it under control and still make it for my trek, which is when he dropped this bomb on me.
He said, “Son, you are trekking to an altitude of 16,000 ft. Your BP is so high that if you cross 8,000 ft, you’ll die, and that is a guarantee. The only choice you’ll have is between a stroke and a cardiac arrest.”
Getting over the hump
After that devastating diagnosis, it was bye-bye trekking in June. It was obvious that the first thing I did was to call the trekking company and inform them since I was way past the refund date. I next set about fixing the situation. I made three crucial decisions that day.
The very first was to ensure I didn’t stop the running. I started going to the gym and runs on a regular basis. I would go for a 10 km run every morning and go to the gym on alternate evenings. I told my gym instructor the situation and he came up with a routine to help me keep the BP in check.
The second crucial decision I made was about my diet. Don’t worry, I didn’t switch to some fancy diet which had me eating wild flowers and seeds or something. What I did was to cut out fried foods. It was not like I was surviving on fries earlier, but now I was a bit more careful. I continued to eat how I always ate but just with a few small changes made. I needed the food for all the exercise I was doing.
I would eat rice, meat, vegetables, fruits, etc. I would even eat out, but what I wouldn’t do is eat sweets, deep-fried food and consume too much alcohol. I would still go out with my friends every now and then for a beer, but I’d restrict the quantity to one, maybe 2 mugs max.
The third, and probably the most crucial decision I made, was to switch over from a motorcycle to a cycle as my mode of conveyance. I got myself a cycle and started cycling to wherever I needed to go. I’d cycle to the office, cycle to go meet my friends and even cycle to the market if I wanted to do some shopping.
Good fortune pays me a visit
I kept this routine up for a few months, and before I knew it, I was back at the doctor’s office (the first one) with a medical form for the same trek. He remembered me and immediately asked the nurse to check my BP. She told him the reading and he silently signed the approval form. He then went on to tell me how great a job I had done in getting fit and getting the BP under control. He wished me all the best and sent me on my way. I was going to for the October 2013 batch of the Roopkund trek.
Soon after that, I was 14,000 ft up on the side of a mountain, with a fierce wind trying to blow my tent away. My watch told me it was 4 am. The temperature was down to -15 degrees Celsius and I was crawling out of my tent to get ready for the climb to 16,000 ft.
Beyond good fortune
As I look back at the events that transpired between the time I got my diagnosis and the last day of that Roopkund trek, I realise that I had lucked out in a couple of other things as well. The very first was that the trekking company which, instead of saying sorry and hanging up, told me that they would keep my money with them and allow me to transfer myself to any batch of the same trek whenever I was healthy. So, I lost no money in that regard.
The second piece of luck came in the most unexpected way imaginable. Right around the time I had booked my trek, the June 2013 batch, the region experienced unusually heavy rainfall. So heavy was the rain that it was being called a cloud burst. There were injuries, massive amounts of destruction and fatalities all over the region. When I went for the Roopkund trek, I struck up a conversation with our trek leader and happened to mention the original plan to him.
He told me that I was lucky I missed that batch. Apparently, they suffered as a result of those rains. There were no injuries or fatalities, but they were left cut off and stranded in the village of Lohajung because the roads were washed out. They actually had to trek at least 60 km of the way back to Kathgodam to reach serviceable roads.
In the end…
Looking back, I’d say that there were two pivotal moments in this entire period. These two moments were the ones that were going to define the coming 7 years.
The first moment was my decision to keep trying and not cancel the trek. I could have given up on this ludicrous idea of going for a trek and gone back to my old life. But I didn’t. I kept it as my goal, and I made it there.
The second moment came as we were driving back from Lohajung after having completed the trek. I was still high on the exhilarating experience that trek had been and I swore to myself that I would try to do one trek every year from then on. Even though I haven’t done one trek a year as I’d hoped, I don’t feel bad because since then there hasn’t been a single year in which I haven’t travelled; which was the ultimate goal to begin with.
Every time I head out on another journey, I thank myself for not having given up when the doctor told me not to go for the trek. Had I not been so adamant about the trek, I probably would never have gone for it, not discovered my love for travelling, and not gotten over my fear of travelling alone.
Worse, you and I wouldn’t be here, engaged in this monologue!