Being out in the wilderness, living in a tent with no semblance – well, almost none – to the modern world around you, can be quite an appealing proposition. When you’re trekking, the places you go to are peaceful, and they are quite beautiful too, compared to the concrete monstrosities that cities can be.
Many people would say that they learned a lot from trekking and I am no different, except maybe in some of what I learned from them. So without further ado here are the things that I have learned from my experiences.
1. Kit kit kit
The kit you carry can mean the difference between having a good time and a bad time. When I went to Roopkund, I had some of the kit right and some of it rather wrong. Unfortunately, the thing I decided to get disastrously wrong was my heavy jacket.
For a heavy jacket, I carried a stuffed Adidas jacket, reasoning that if it made me sweat in Bangalore, it would keep me warm up on the mountain. I was VERY wrong. Not only did it not have adequate insulation, it let all the cold wind through, freezing my torso. The only thing that saved my butt was that I remembered to dress in layers.
Needless to say, for all subsequent treks, I have a choice of two purpose-built jackets. One of them is a combination of a fleece inner layer and a waterproof outer shell, and the other is a down jacket for places, and times, when you won’t be getting too much water on yourself.
2. Fitness is not overrated if you want to enjoy the trek
When I went to Roopkund, I was in the middle of my running season and had been running and cycling almost every day. A 21 km run was just another day for me. This meant that I was able to deal with the altitude and the mountainous terrain with ease.
However, when I showed up in Sikkim for the Goechala Trek, I had not been running, and though I could still knock off a 10 km run, I was not nearly as fit as I had been a year ago. The result was that I was huffing and puffing up the mountains and had to dig really REALLY deep to get through the climb from 9,000 ft to 13,000 ft.
The only thing that saved me in this situation was the one lesson I learned as a runner; dig deep, pace yourself, and ignore the discomfort till its time to take care of it.
3. Cameras can be good and bad while trekking
When we go trekking, or on any scenic trip for that matter, we tend to take a lot of photographs. I was no exception, and on my trip to Sikkim for the Goechala Trek, I had my camera and three spare batteries. I was determined not to miss a moment of the trek and capture as much of it as I could.
90 km, 11 days and about 1300 photos later, as we were nearing the end of the trek, I suddenly realised that while I could recall a lot of the photos I took, I couldn’t recall quite a bit of the trek.
It was not a loss of memory that I was suffering from; it was just that I had been so busy taking photographs that I had not immersed myself in the trek as I would have liked to do.
4. Not everyone you meet is interesting or turns into a friend for life
Meeting new people is good fun, and it can be quite rewarding in its own way, but that will not be the case every time you shake hands with someone. The people that I met on my treks to Roopkund, Goechala and Hampta Pass were awesome, and some of us still keep in touch, but the group that I had on the Chadar Trek – well, that lot left a lot to be desired.
Not all the people were bad, though. There is one from that group that I am still in touch with, but I suspect that has more to do with our mutual love for photography and trekking. As for the rest, we didn’t really get along. This is not a criticism of their personality or mine, but more of a comment on how we were looking for different things from that trek. Things that didn’t complement each other.
Note: Don’t let this be a deterrent for you. Make sure you go out there and meet new people. Yes, you will meet some people you don’t like, but you will also meet those you do like.
5. The ability to stand up straight is precious
This is a small thing that I became aware of at one of our campsites during the Goechala Trek. We had been living in tents day in and day out. We were sleeping in them, washing in them, changing in them, etc. etc. Then one day, at one of the higher campsites, we were told that we could stay in the Forest Department huts if we’d like.
A unanimous decision was made in favour of that suggestion, and we found ourselves in this log cabin with no electricity and a wooden platform for our sleeping bags. That was the first time in a week or so that I got to stand up straight to put on my pants. It was one awesome feeling!
6. Do your ‘business’ super quick
This is something that will happen to you if you go for a winter trek or, like me, for the Chadar Trek. When you wake up in the wee hours of the morning to answer the call of nature, the temperature outside can be anything up to -30 degrees Celsius. This means that you make sure that your delicates are exposed to the cold as for as short a time as is possible; hence… doing your business super quick.
I guess the point of all these words is that trekking – in fact, all journeys – tend to teach you something whether you like it or not, and that not everything will be all it’s built up to be.