Friday, May 30, 2014

And at last - The answer! [BMC @ Himalayan Mountaineering Institute]

Climbing for 6 to 7 hours, gave plenty of time to think. And I love to think. The last time I enjoyed "thinking" so much was at Vipassana course. Actually that course is meant for you to calm your mind , arthaat "not think" and get into that zone where you think nothing. And if you can achieve that for even a second, it feels beautiful. Well I did experience those seconds several times in that course in the later half. But initially, in the first 5 days, all I did was think as much as I liked.

So I got thinking about.......... "what do you want to do with your life next?"
I have studied law, now I am in my final stages of CS course, I just started off as a consultant......and yet, this question! For a moment I was shocked my conscience dared to ask me that!
"Still you are asking me what next?"
"Yeah....Are you happy?"
" Yes....I am happy!", I was getting defensive.

"Then what are you doing here?", asked me, teasing me.
"Mountaineering course.......of course!", (like doesn't she know? Dumbo!)
"What makes you travel and go stumbling around new places and experiences when you are satisfied with what you have?"
" I like to explore...."
"Explore yourself?"
"And what great thing are you trying to find in yourself?"

If at Level one I was fed up of people, in Level 2 I was fed up with myself!
If Vipassana tested my mind power, mountaineering tested my mind and my body creating such a unique experience that opened doors to desires and hidden powers.
"You have something in yourself you have been running away from for a long time, you know?" 

"Janaki, ab chalo. Tum bohot slow jaa raha hai aaj!", one of the Instructor shouted from the back. 

I am not new to such dialogues with myself. One reason I guard my "me time" is because I love my own company. But somehow, all these years I could convince myself to do something my way. During this mountaineering course, I realised that there was some higher power - with its own mind, and it had started exerting pressure on me to behave in a way it likes. The rest of the climb and the course I kept convincing it with answers, quoting experiences from the past and why I do what I do. Until that day when I fainted. There, it did not listen to me. There, it clearly showed what it can do if I don't listen to it. " You can't take me for granted Janaki and you dare not cross my limits!"
" It's just a matter of another half an hour, why can't you bloody co-operate with me and walk this patch?" 
" Is it just about this short patch? Really? The whole course is over! When else will you listen to the answer that I have been shouting out in your face? What do you keep searching for all the time? YOU DON'T BLOODY HAVE THE COURAGE TO CHASE YOUR DREAM! You betray me every single time to get along with parents, friends, society and lovers! Today, I won't listen to you, I give up! Do what you like!"
I tried one final time to stand, lost control and fell off on my face. I could hear people, and see them but I couldn't move my hands or legs. Someone had to lift me up and get me to Bakhim. At the forest house, I regained consciousness, I could move my legs and hands. But I was extremely disturbed. That night I shivered for almost 2 hours. No matter what who did, I couldn't get my body to calm down. I was given medicine, Deepa hugged me, Sharvani tried putting me to sleep like a child. She held me tight and asked me to breathe. I just couldn't control my mind to help me control my body. 

My mind was out of it's mind! 

Somehow that night passed by, and next day I climbed down safely to Yuksum. A part of me had completely withdrawn itself from the daily activities though. I couldn't forget that experience of my mind/ conscience/ soul ( whatever you call it) refusing to co-operate with me. I wanted to run home to mamma. In my life so far I have never been this home sick. I am not someone who misses parents and family. 

After we came down, we had a day off. We had our cross country running competitions and rock climbing competition. The written exam and finally the Graduation ceremony. As each day passed, I grew more distant from myself. There were no more voices in my head, there was just silence.

Now for several days after I got back home, I have been operating on an auto pilot mode. Physically I am in Goa, mentally I still remain with HMI.  And spiritually? 
My next course of action, and the path I have to take has been paved before me. I realize that it was always there. I either refused to see it, or didn't have the courage to step on to it because it would be a tough lonely journey. 

But what has to be done, must be done! Whatever the stakes may be.
I do not know if it is the best thing to do - but what I do know is that it is the right thing for me to do.

That's all from me for now. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute's Basic Mountaineering Course has been instrumental in giving me courage that I was scared to tap within myself. I would recommend this course to everybody, whether you like the mountains or you don't. Whether you like adventure or you don't. Come here and take home the ultimate experience of your lifetime, all for just Rs.4100/-

Okay I sound like I am advertising for HMI, but well! On a serious note, if you are a thinker, traveler, adventure enthusiast, have a creative mind, respect life and the mysteries it offers, a student at heart, young or old, whoever you might be........if you need a kick in your life to feel you are alive and breathing- then this is your place! Period! 

On Graduation Day: Blue: Basic course; Red: Advance course students

References & Notes:
 1.Thanks to : Deepa , Hardik, Hemang and Rohit for the photos! If I have used photographs belonging to people I haven't mentioned here, please let me know.
2. For another point of view on HMI Basic course, read Deepa's blog :
3. To know what an advance course is like, please read Sai Pitre's blog:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Life at Base camp

 "You never realise how strong you are , until being strong is the only choice you have!"
Base camp Chowrikhang 14600 ft
Journal entry:
23rd April 2014
4.30 pm

(While at self arrest class)

"There is no time to pee, or drink enough water or definitely, there is no time to write as well. That is why I take this opportunity to write during class, sitting here on the steep slope against the strong winds.

Initially I hated being here, it is too exhausting for me. But now I am liking it. At this moment, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world! I do not have much aptitude in this stuff....I still don't understand which knot to use for which purpose. It's almost like being a magician when you work with the rope and the wonderful things you can do with it.

I don't know if I would like to come here again and put myself through this torture, but I have achieved what I wanted in this process - A better understanding of myself . I thought I wasn't tough enough to survive this, I am. I am slow, but I am not weak. I do not give up, I made it to each and every class and every single activity- whether I was bored, had my period, body ache, or feeling giddy... I showed up and for that I am proud of myself!

My efforts might not be up to the mark for the others as most girls out here are extremely fit. There is a lot to learn from them. Now that I have seen what women are capable of doing, I can prepare myself in that direction and challenge myself once more. My current performance is the base record set for me that I have to break.

There is another force that is working in my favour. My parents or society I live in is least interested in this activity, and since it's just a month long course, they know I am not going to make a career in it, and have let me off the hook! There are no expectations. All this I am doing, is just for myself! And it feels so GOOD, man I can't explain!
What if I choose a life that is so selfish as to think only of myself? 
I would only have "me" to impress!"Me" to disappoint!"

The night sky at base camp (Photographer: Hemang Gala)

There is an intimate connection with spirituality and these mountains. It is impossible to go up there, in those rugged terrains and not reflect upon your life, not look at the bigger picture, not question your existence and what you are doing.

My life back home in Goa is comfortable, if I stick to what I have, there won't be many issues. But is there all that is to life? To be comfortable? Am I living to get comfortable? Is that the goal? Would that make me happy? Would that make me proud of myself?
"Oh yeah I bought this car, and this expensive phone, and spent 1000's on medication and now I look so slim and this branded dress fits me so well, man! I look so sexy!"  <------- Is this me?
" Oh my boyfriend/ husband owns that company, the CM called him today you know to discuss important matters, he graduated from that prestigious university, my children go to XYZ school, oh yeah, it's the best here!" <--------- This?

Would I rather choose a path that I can't "show off" to the world but which dazzles me?

Isn't it better to stay true to myself?
Why should I run the rat race when it completely fails to impress me?

Well! I know that a lot of us had started asking a lot of these questions , in spite of all the exertion and the lack of time and our schedules being full of activities. There were jumaring lessons, rappelling, self arrest class, crevasse rescue, learning to walk in crampons and using the ice axe, climbing on fixed rope....all these activities require tremendous amounts of energy.

Life at base camp:

Girl's hut

The main activities at base camp apart from course work were:
1. Pooping
2. Eating and washing the Mess tin

Pooping Business:

The toilets were so far away, we had to climb a small hill to get there. The usual routine was 5-6-7. Which means 5 o'clock bed tea, 6 am breakfast and 7 am Fall in ( Fall in means assemble at the assembling point and fall into your ropes, ready to report.) Deepa and Akshata were the early risers. Madhura and myself woke up somewhere at around 5.30 and Sharvani had to be shaken and shouted at to make her get out of her sleeping bag.

Things were fine on days that were normal. It got difficult when it snowed and the temperatures dropped with chilly winds. Trekking up the hill was a pain, besides there were heavy chances of slipping and falling. I fell twice! Once in my own poop and the 2nd time in someone else's poop. OMG! That was such a nightmare! I cleaned my shoes several times, but I could smell poop until I got home and washed the shoes for 2 days!

Mess- Tin and the freezing cold water:

The tiffin had to be washed every single time after use. Water in the mornings and at nights was so damn freezing that this activity was one that I hated the most. Your fingers bloody go so numb and then there is some sort of pain after a while. The whole feeling was damn uncomfortable! I was so engrossed in coping up with these factors that I hadn't noticed that Sharvani was skipping dinners. Later I found out that she is not a "cold weather" person. She would be active throughout the day while the sun shines and refuse to get out when it got cold. Some days she hit the sack at 4pm. For a few days we had dinner in the same mess tin, so I knew what she ate and she didn't have to freeze her hands in the cold water. But on some days I got angry. Sharing food isn't my forte'. I get angry when people eat from my plate. Once Joy picked up food from Hemang's plate without asking for his permission. I was sitting on the same table and I took offense at such behaviour even though Hemang was cool. Later I gave Joy a lecture on this topic. Didn't help much because he did repeat his stunt on someone else's plate.

Course work:

Trek to the Glacier and Back: 

We had 4 days of snow and Ice craft on the Glacier. Someone told me that it was the most difficult task in this course. If you get through this, you can get through anything. I wondered what can be more difficult than the trek from Bakhim to Dzongri! Plus here onwards we had to wear snow boots that weigh around 2 kg's! The level of discomfort was high and so had to be our endurance.

Day 1 : Trek to the Glacier: 2 and a half hours of trek to and fro :The bags were light, but the shoes were heavy and they were harsh on feet ending up with several blisters. 1st day was difficult on me because I didn't get food at the right time. I had breakfast at 6 am . We took longer to get to the Glacier and finished the activity at 2 pm. I think we climbed down the glacier at around 3. After 3 pm I could hardly walk . By the time I had my lunch it was  4.15pm. I am used to having meals at the right time. In fact I have smaller meals 5 times a day. I realised that mountaineering is a lot about preparation and strategy. Next day onwards, I started packing tiffin for myself and ate it on the way to the glacier. That settled the hunger issue.

Food at HMI: Food and hostel facilities are excellent at HMI ( for the price you pay). The quarter master was in charge of these departments and did an excellent job. Not just that, we could go to him with any issues and he gave us a lot of moral support because of which getting through this course became much easier.

It's the people at HMI that make this experience so special! The whole staff and crew are very hospitable and warm. The Principal is an open minded person, willing to listen to you.

Medical Facilities: The Medical Officer or the Nursing Assistant are around 24x7. Apart from them, all instructors are well trained in first aid and are abundantly aware of what medication to be used for what symptom and problem. I used to be someone who is scared of hospitals and doctors, but not after this course. I had some or the other issue every single day and visiting the medical room was like going to a temple. Loose motions, gas, cold and fever, body ache, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion became a way of life. I took a tablet every night before sleeping, and had to apply vicks throughout the day and the night to control my 24x7 running nose.
Deepa and Sharvani seemed stuck on the question, "Will I puke today?"
"Maybe I won't!"
"Maybe I will!"

Extra- curricular activities at the Base camp:
Photography by Hemang Gala

The glacier trek and activities would get over by 2 pm and after lunch we had a class for an hour on the activity that we were to practice the next day.
By 5 pm, we would be free. Some boys spent time playing cricket or football, some of us played dumb-charades, and antakshari in the dining hall.

The girl's hut and the gossip :On days when it snowed heavily, the girls sat inside their huts and gossiped. Major discussions initially revolved around how many layers of sunscreen to apply to protect your skin, which creams work better in these extreme climates to discussions on bra sizes and boobs. Boy's aren't the only one's to talk about boobs. In fact every time we changed, there was always an admirer amongst us admiring the other. Women love to watch other women.

Days passed by fast. When I was climbing though, I was counting every second and it looked like the time had slowed down. Now a days, I miss that heavy sound of my breath that rang in my ears throughout the course, reminding me that I am alive, teaching me the meaning of being alive.

Dogs at Base camp. They had accompanied us from Yuksum . Photographed by Hemang Gala
 Height gain on Renok peak at 16,500ft

On the last day we climbed a peak.  The climb was steep and we had to be roped up while going higher. Mostly 10 to 11 people were roped together. There was this attitude of "just get through every day" in me initially, but when I was climbing the last phase to reach the top of the Peak is when I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And I thought, yes, I need to give this more of my time and attention and effort. I must attempt to climb another Peak, some day. I must try to get better at this, it's fun! The friends you make here are for real because your life depends on them. They fall, you fall with them- everyone dies! We don't operate in an artificial environment. This is for real.

I did an unusual thing when I reached the peak.
I prayed!
I prayed for the well being of my parents. They are wonderful parents considering how difficult a person I am. They put up with me, every single time. I argue and I have my mood off's and every few years something new catches my attention and I jump into the wagon. They have let me jump and fall and get hurt and have got hurt with me in the process.
I prayed for them so that the almighty protects them and gives them the power to push through life, because here onwards, I will only get crazier & whackier!

Next post: The last post on HMI series.

And here are a few nice photos from Hemang Gala and Hardik at HMI.

Roped up at the Glacier

While climbing Renok

One of the 4 bridges from Yuksum to Bakhim


Monday, May 26, 2014

Just- friends, crushes and special interests at HMI

*** Special Thanks to Deepa for giving me very important tips on this post. And so, this one is dedicated to her!

Deepa- my love,

In some other life - I would be your's and you would be mine! 

Hmmm...... what do I say about the matters of the heart? 
When I was on my way back from HMI, I called up my cousin, Ganesh to tell him about the journey. The first question he asked was, "So, did you manage to fall in love with someone?" And I laughed and said, "God! You know me so well!"

On day 4 when we had this outing, I saw this guy on the street with a bright smile, boyish charm and loads of energy. It wasn't too difficult to understand that he was from HMI. By this time we knew how to spot our Institute people on the streets of Darjeeling, they behave in a peculiar way. Either they are buying adventure gear or eating as if they haven't been fed for years or roaming the streets like they own them! 

( This is Vignesh.....he isn't that guy!!!)
I was buying some stuff with Puri and the advance course senior Mr. Bali! ( Yeah! I made sure I was fully protected on the unsafe streets of Darjeeling by roaming around with Commando's and Navy Officers ), well! I saw this guy with his friends. 
When I  watch, I watch and I let the other person know he's got an admirer here! I don't know if he noticed, but Puri did notice me and asked, "Koi achha laga kya?" 
"Haan. Woh!" I pointed out to him. " Puri, ek kaam karoge?" 
" Bali sir se puchke iske bare mein info nikaal na?"
"Pagal hai tu!"
It was just a joke then, but yes I had my eyes on him during the course.

A lot of people had their eyes on different targets! Just imagine, the cold beautiful weather of Darjeeling and all of us in the outdoors and Indoors.....24x7!  Sparks are bound to fly, and they did! We women loved the attention initially, but towards the end it had started getting on to our nerves. It was hard to get privacy.

During one of the lectures, one young guy sitting next to me started flirting. 
"Excuse me, are you flirting with me?" I asked him.
He got a bit embarrassed and stopped talking.
"Do you know how old I am?" I asked him."I am 29!" 
He looked shocked. "Shaadi nahi hui aapki?" 
"Nahi! Tum karoge?"

After this incident, I told people my age before I told them my name. It helped till some extent- in the sense that I got "that sort of attention" from men my age rather than younger folks. 

There was just one guy whom all the girls openly admired- The Mexican! Ooooh lala! During rock climbing we got plenty of opportunities to check out his well toned body. Abhishek from my Rope once caught me staring, "Bass kar yaar Janaki, aur kitna ghuregi?" 
"Tu bhi kisiko ghur na!" , I dismissed him without taking my eyes off the Mexican. 
"Meri gf hai"
"lekin mera bf nai hai na?"
"Phir ullu ki tarah ghurti reh!"
Me and Abhishek had these mini arguments several times during the course. He was like this sweet younger brother I could act crazy with. 

Whether there were any love stories around for real or not, Joy kept a tab on everyone. He even clicked pictures of people sitting in corners, embarrassing them with questions like, "Kya chal raha hai yahaan?" 
He prepared his daily "Top couples of the day" List ( amongst other lists he maintained religiously) and shared it with some of us who had the chance to talk to name appeared on his list several times! 
I would ask him with a sad face, "Kya Joy, teri list mein mera naam kyu?"
"Tu mujhe matt sikha, teri har chaal pe nazar hai meri!", he answered with a professor like confidence. 

I once overheard a conversation amongst guys wherein they were rating the girls and were choosing their favorites and least favorites. I retaliated by starting a similar discussion amongst girls where we picked our favourites and the least favourites.

Probably One of the  reasons the lady instructor behaved badly with us was because she was jealous of the attention we got! Many of the instructors were confused ki, " ABC ka chakkar exactly kiske saath chal raha hai? XYZ ke saath ke PQR ke saath?" for which Joy offered interesting deductions.

I played the role of Love Guru, giving important updates and tips and notices from time to time. In fact it was my observation that a particular boy was interested in my friend and always looked out for her. Once I was sitting on a rock watching the people climb. This gentleman came looking around the place and asked for my friend. I knew where she was, but I purposely pointed him to the other direction and had fun watching him search the whole place. From then on I was absolutely sure about his special interest. When I told her she dismissed me saying they were "Just friends". I can never go wrong about these things. Towards the end of the course, this gentleman did open up about his feelings!

I was lucky enough to be a part of some beautiful moments myself! I won't forget that snowy day! I was enjoying snowfall alone on the huge ground at Base camp. One of my friend, a boy, came around asking me what I was doing all alone. This guy and I loved singing songs together, and I got along with him very well. One particular day I was feeling low, someone played a familiar song, instinctively I asked him to dance with me, and he obliged! That was a beautiful moment. 
Then again here,  with the lightning and  thundering in the background , he asked me if he could sing me a song. I said yes. And he sang this beautiful song to me,

As I stand on this mountain
Face to the wind
Amazed by the number of times
I have sinned

And the countless  enemies
That should have been friends
Here he comes again
My friend

He keeps sending me angels
Here they come a-flyin'
He keeps sending me angels
To keep me from cryin'

He keeps sending me angels
Sweet and true
He keeps sending me angels
Just like you

I still remember that smile it brought on my face. I felt so special! Nobody has sung for me in my whole life! There was this beautiful pause where we just looked at each other. Then he left me to enjoy my own company and walked his way. That is what I liked about him. He knew when I needed him, and he knew when I needed to be left alone.

Joy, due to his special interests in collecting gossip became a lady's man in his own right. He told us that before coming for this course he was shy and never talked to girls. End of the course, Joy was the only guy surrounded by most number of girls. Joy has this clean heart, he even picked up fights with the army guys for commenting on us. Why wouldn't we stand by him? Of course we stood by him!

The original photo: Dolma & Sharvani (Photographer: Mr. Joy)

Joyfied version! You give your camera to Joy asking him to click your picture, he clicks it, hands it over to someone else and butts in! This happened every single time , without exceptions!
There are many other stories!
Of the stolen kisses and the holding of hands under the table.
Of those exchanged glances, and coded words.
Of meeting behind that far away hut in the mist and the fog.
Of being caught by an Instructor or a fellow participant,
Of sneaking behind the rocks to smoke a cigarette,
Or of sharing the sweet roshogulla in the dark corners,
Of painting the city red ,unabashed and unapologetic, throwing caution to the wind.....
All those who experienced love in those mountains, even if it was just for a moment, in that skipped heartbeat or shy glance, have earned a memory to remember for a lifetime!

Sadly as in most cases, matters that begin in a far off beautiful locale like Darjeeling, end at Darjeeling! 
You meet all these wonderful people and you don't know when you will see them next. Initially everyone calls, texts but soon everyone gets on with their regular life. We have to, that is the way things are meant to be.
That is why I don't believe in "another day", whatever you have to say and do, must happen right now. 
On the last day, after Graduation, just before I left Darjeeling, I made sure I had my time with that charming guy from advance batch I had seen on the street. I told him I admire his personality, and yes , I got to have coffee and his number in return! 
All said and done, the Instructors were a class apart! This is Robin Sir, and yes I had a little crush on him....just a lil bit! ;-)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Level 2 HMI- Trek to the Base camp at 14,600ft

A word before you read this post:

The complaints are going to be on a rise from here, because that was how things had started shaping up. Yes we had fun and all that, but the truth remains that this is an extremely difficult course, mentally and physically. And the older you are, and the less prepared you go here, the more issues you will it happened in my case!

I don't intend painting a negative picture. But this is the way it happened, the unedited censored version!

The bus took us to Yuksum at 5600 ft ( Sikkim) on 14th April. "Yuk" means Lamas and "sum" means three. It is the land of 3 lamas. The first capital of Sikkim. It was approximately a 9 hour bus journey from Darjeeling. It is this small quiet village that opens several routes to some of the best trekking routes in India. We girls were accomodated in a small room with decent toilets close by.

The boys complained to us  that what girls have got is Taj Exotica in comparison to the "Tabela" (Horse shed) that they had to sleep in.

Day 1 trek from Yuksum to Bakhim ( 11 kms)

We started trekking at 7.30 am and reached Bakhim at around 1.30 pm. It was quite a climb I thought, with the heavy backpack and all. I was wrong. The real heavy climb was from Bakhim to Dzongri on day 3, more on that later.

On the way to Bakhim, Sharvani started feeling sick, so she stopped. She wanted to take a day's rest but that is not allowed on this course. For a while I wanted to go back with her, because we had discussed and planned this trip together, I couldn't think of going ahead alone. But the instructors shooed me away . And she just said a firm , "Janaki, Go!" And I continued climbing without looking back , not knowing why I was climbing, not even paying attention to the terrain which was getting difficult! The rest of the climb  was a blur. I was tired and exhausted by the time I reached Bakhim, but more than that I was praying that maybe something works out and Sharvani is allowed to climb the next day.

Day 2: Bakhim: 9000ft:   was an acclimatisation day because we were  at 9000 ft and this is officially high altitude. We had a small trek to get us warmed up but the rest of the day was free. While on this trek the Chief Instructor told me that Sharvani was climbing today- and I was glad!

Bakhim is where I got to know my course mates a bit better because there was a formal introduction class. I realised how different all of us were. Someone didn't have the money to pay for this course, someone else had resigned to be here, someone fought with his boss , someone dreamt of climbing Mt Everest, others wanted to do some expedition. 

I knew this guy called "Joy Bhattacharjee" was around....but I got to know him better from this day forward because yes, we ended up climbing together most of the times. And in this introduction class he made this classic statement, "Mein kisibhi tarah se yeh course complete karunga Sir! Chad te hue nahi hua toh rengte hue upar tak jaunga!" The class burst out laughing, but I admired his courage to say and ask some of the most ridiculous things throughout the course! Joy , truly became the Joy of 301 BMC HMI batch! He told one of the Instructors that he would surely come for the Advance course, and the Instructor replied saying, "Joy is the secret of my Head ache!" And the rest of the instructors said in unison, "Our headache!" He has some of the best punchlines and the funniest hindi accent I've heard in recent times. The things he did made me laugh in the face of some of the most difficult times I faced at this course, and for that I am thankful to him. He got on to my nerves, I fought with him several times, but he came around and I couldn't help but smile. On the last day Joy gave all of his favourite buddies a group photograph we had clicked on the peak with the message, " Dear Janaki , My teacher and advisor. It is my pleasure to learn from you." I couldn't decide whether I liked him or didn't like him, but by the end of it, he made sure we liked him and we all missed him so much that we started a whatsapp group called "Joy we love".

There are so many stories of Joy, maybe if there is time I will jot them down...the story of Joy's tea cup that hit Mr. Naidu, and the story of Joy falling off the rocks, or that one where I almost fell because of Joy's mistake, and the biggest one: The rainy night, Joy and the stubborn dog!

Instructors at HMI:

Helpful, resourceful and loving! All the instructors at HMI are experts in the field, besides being extremely patient and friendly. All of them are keen on teaching and take personal interest in each student. The method of teaching varies from person to person of course, so some of them were strict. I did not get along well with one of them. And that was because of his high expectations out of HMI students and my average level of fitness.

All of us don't go to HMI with the aim of being a mountaineer! Some of us went there just to try something new. I feel, as a teacher, one must allow that space to a student to explore and find their own way around a particular problem. Like Joy commented back to this instructor when he was trying to make us walk faster, "Sir, ek din mein hum Milkha Singh thodi ban jayega?"

You can't turn a normal citizen into a mountaineer in one month's time! What you can do is inspire, teach , experiment and maybe that person feels motivated and comes around to be a mountaineer!
The question I was asking myself throughout the course was, "Is HMI the start or the end of mountaineering for me?"

The haunted Bakhim forest guest house :

Something freaky happened! The time was around 9 pm, all the girls were inside the broken room . The girls who trekked faster were given the wooden beds, we the slower crowd slept on the floor and the Kashmiri poet for some reason chose to sleep alone in the farther most corner from all of us, under the window.
Suddenly there was a scream, I was awake so I saw her sit up straight at 90 degrees and then sleep again! She later reported that she felt as  if someone sat on her chest and tried to gag her. Later , our lady instructor told us that the place was known to be haunted. Whenever there are deaths higher up in the mountains, they bring down the body and keep it at this forest house overnight, because of convenience before taking it down.

I didn't know exactly what was happening. I just heard someone read some text at night. For a moment I thought it was some voodoo or dark arts, someone was trying to cast a spell on me perhaps! I shook Deepa out of her sleep and told her what I felt. She hugged me tight and put me to sleep. ( Here onwards I could barely sleep without Deepa hugging me.)

There's this thing about altitude! The higher you go, your mind starts playing dirty games with you. We were told stories of people ( HMI ex students) who had died of Altitude mountain sickness, of how some people started hallucinating and acting crazy!

The next morning I realised that the text was actually Hanuman Chalisa , read by the Instructor because she herself was scared after the Kashmiri poet narrated her story!

Anyway, there were other strange things our clothes which were drenched in sweat  that we had kept for drying had turned all wet the next morning like someone had poured water on them. Suspicion and doubt was lurking all around and tempers were running high!

Bakhim to Dzongri- 12,000 ft

I have never been this exhausted my whole life! This trek is a constant climb of 7 hours! I was completely and totally screwed after 4 hours of climbing. Thanks to Nikhil and Puri and some others who helped me in every possible way to push ahead. Without the help of all these people, I would never have completed the course. It took much more than just my strength or motivation or will power to get this done. I learnt a major lesson in the role that people play in our lives. Our lives are never ours alone- so true!

24 x 7 surveillance:

It is a bit irritating to know that the instructors are watching you every moment. How you behave with others, how you trek, do you take help from others, what is your temperament like! My body and my mind was under tremendous pressure, on top of that there were issues with some other participants or the lady instructor who didn't treat us well. It was difficult to understand how to behave in such an environment. 
There was one particularly difficult patch, and I was taking help from someone. At that very moment, the Bengali woman passes me by and says, "Janaki, don't take help frm (xyz), sir ne dekh liya toh grade affect ho jayegi!"
I shot her a dirty look and said in konkani, "I'll shove the grade up your ass!"
From that moment on, whenever anyone spoke of the grade, we konkani's would say this dialogue  and laught out loud. It calmed us down and made us feel good about ourselves. I know it wasn't the best thing to do, but come on ,we were struggling to get through every single day and all that some people could think of is the grade! Typical mentality of Indians I should say!

Arguments with Instructor:

That same Instructor I didn't get along well with asked me why I even bothered coming for this course.
Well! When I want to learn something, I go and get it and I don't let anybody interfere with my need to learn . Everyone is not born with the same abilities and all of us are not designed to be experts! Just because I am a weak student does not mean I am the least interested one. I am observing and learning, I am alive and yes I have an opinion about you too, just the way you are forming opinions about me.
No! I did not say this out loud to him that day. But I did say this to him the day we were coming down from Dzongri. I asked him for help and he refused. I was feeling extremely weak that day, perhaps if he was being positive towards me and had encouraged me I would have pushed myself ahead. But when someone mistreats you continuously, it is hard to co operate with them. That day I fainted! I realised that  it was my mind refusing to co operate with him, and telling me not to listen to him.

I made a promise to myself a few years ago when someone mistreated me, that I would NEVER EVER let anyone do that to me again! Whether it is my Boss, parents or teachers- NOBODY absolutely has a right to judge me from their prism of context and treat me the way they like! I would be treated the way I like!

When I look back at that day, I know that I refused him as my instructor! I refused to be mistreated! I refused to stand up! I stood by my promise and for that I am proud of myself!  He told me later that it was shameful to faint, how will others think of you? You are weak!

Why would I bother what other's think of me?
I know what I think of myself, and that single incident went down to teach him a good lesson later. 

At this point, the constant struggle got to me. The question to ask was, 99% of the people at HMI are sweet , am I going to spoil my experience because of this remaining 1%?

No way!

Photo Credits:

Rohit Arora
Deepa Bhat

How I cracked Level 1 & the people at HMI

Apart from these wonderful girls I had as my roomies, there was another thing that helped me crack level 1!
My Rope- Rope 2!

In HMI, people are put in groups (Ropes! Why they call it a rope is because in mountaineering , a rope is a lifeline). They make sure you and your friends don't end up in the same rope. So myself Vignesh and Sharvani belonged to separate ropes and the Konkani clan was also carefully divided. Mostly every rope had only one girl member.

My Rope leader was the senior most participant (by age). There was one army jawaan, one guy from Haryana, 2 from Mumbai, 1 from Darjeeling and 1 Bengali guy. During rock climbing, my rope members helped and encouraged me so much that I knew that if not for me, I had to complete the given task for them. I had issues with the army jawaan though. There were 4 of them in the whole course who passed dirty comments and gave dirty looks to girls. Initially I tried getting to know them by talking to them, trying to make them understand my part of the story. Then I started keeping my distance. And towards the end when I heard them commenting on me, I commented back. Loud & clear!

Most of us girls are very protected in our sweet lives, and it is hard for us to understand why some men hate some women so much! These guys ( all from Haryana- and yes this experience has made me draw adverse conclusions about Haryana ) - most of them married, hated to see us girls talk and laugh and have a good time with other men.

What we consider as "normal behaviour" , they consider it as "Cheap behaviour".
I had a conversation with one of them about the clothes that modern women choose to wear and he said that if he sees any woman wear short clothes , he will pick her up! Because she is asking for it! And this man comes from the army and is married. Well forget his marriage but he definitely defamed the Indian Army there!

For me, more than mountaineering, this was an opportunity to understand my own country. Because in no other course would I meet such a diverse crowd.
Here are some of the types of people I met at the course:

1. Those who talked too much: There was too much unsolicited advice. Unnecessary discussions and debates.
2. Those who didn't  understand the meaning of "My space" Or giving others "Their space".
3. Those who looked for approval from others: "I want to be liked by everyone around me". "I want them to perceive me as a good person".
4. Those who only think of Competition.
5. Those who looked at women as objects! These were also the one's who thought they have a say in "How a woman should behave".
6. Those who have safely parked themselves in a parallel universe!
7. Hard core mountaineering folks: We eat mountains. We sleep mountains. We talk mountains.
8. Those who knew how to use others and get their work done.
9. Those who indulged in stealing other's food.
10. Moody unstable characters.
11. Intellectuals. Spritual. Deep thinkers.
12. Singers.
13. Fashion crazy folks.
14. Dopers & smokers!
15. The quiet "I mind my own business, you mind your's!" folks.

So now you do know what I was doing most of my time at the course!
I was thinking, observing, feeling and living it up!
Yes I was also learning about mountaineering, but this question and answer session in my mind which was triggered by all these people I met was the centre of my focus!

Due to all my thinking, I didn't get close to anyone in particular in level 1. I preferred my music over the company of people. Besides my "Me Time" is of supreme importance and I guarded it.

Level 2 is where I learnt to keep my thoughts aside and experience people!

Like Deepa put it, " People that sleep together and poop together are the one's that stick together!"

Whenever I attend any courses, there is one person  that I completely connect to. In this course that person was Deepa. It wasn't love at first sight ( we both are straight unfortunately!) In fact she and Akshata were so close all the time, and I was so lost in my thoughts that we both didn't cross each other's territories. On the 3rd night I announced I am going home. Deepa jumped on my bed ( god knows from where) and convinced me not to go. She hugged me, held my face and didn't let go until I said the words, "I won't go". When Deepa finally let go I looked at Sharvani who smiled gently (in her usual style) and said, "Chill!"

And so I stayed !

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The story of the mysteriously rising blood pressure!

I was nervous about HMI from the day I applied for it.

My heartbeat started acting funny from the moment I read the board "Himalayan Mountaineering Institute"
Vignesh said, "This is it!"
Sharvani said, "The moment of truth"!

After we registered our names, we were allotted our room. Room No. 8 on 2nd floor. We were given a spoon, a cup and a thick (mattress looking) blanket. I laid it on my bed  like a mattress carefully, until another girl laughed at me and told me it was a blanket!

When put in an unfamiliar environment, the first thing any person would do is find something familiar and stick to it! Sharvani and I were by each other so I wasn't alone, but our strength grew to four when we met Akshata and Madhura from Mumbai. Yes we Goans are very comfortable with Maharashtrians, next state as it is! Neighbours! But that wasn't the only reason. We soon found out that all 4 of us spoke some version of Konkani and belonged to the same community! Quickly a circle of trust was formed.

Some time later entered another girl with a huge backpack. We looked at her suspiciously. She walked in confidently, and smiled at us. "Hi I am Deepa from Mumbai!"
"Great!" all of us were relieved. We introduced ourselves, and "Chamatkaar" , she also was a konkani and belonged to the same community!

Now I know what most of you may be thinking. That we are racist, typical, orthodox! Actually none of us really care about our community, or the language for that matter.The reason we bonded was because:
We DID NOT BITCH about each other!
And we DID NOT PRETEND we were something else!

Anyway, there were only 11 girls in a batch of 64!
You can imagine the kind of attention we girls enjoyed!

Apart from the konkani clan (5), there was the Ladakhi Squad : made up of 3 strong, sweet and warm young girls who I absolutely adored! One Bengali, 1 beautiful Kashmiri poet and a senior woman from Mumbai.

Konkani clan & the compatibility:
To say the least the konkani clan and the bengali woman had issues every single day! We just couldn't get along. It's not necessary that one should get along with everyone....right? This was one of those cases. I know it is unfair to pitch one girl against 5! But she managed to give all 5 of us quite a tough time!

The Ladakhi squad kept to themselves and we loved them! These women were strong , very strong in comparison to us who came from the plains. They ran on the rocks, never seemed to get tired, were helpful, always smiling and genuine.

The Kashmiri woman was quiet and clever. I got along with her because we both wrote and searched for time and place where we could be left alone with our book and pen. I think she is what we all imagine Kashmiri women to be and more! She is beautiful of course and strong! Physically , mentally and emotionally! And for a young woman ( I won't disclose her age, but she is much younger to me), the qualities that she displayed were extra ordinary!

The senior woman was a source of inspiration and many times her endurance put us to shame!

I feel ,We as Konkani's are  politically smart. We weren't that strong physically, but we learnt the tricks of the trade that could help us survive.
I think Bengali's are extremely competitive.
Ladakhi's are truly genuine.
And Kashmiri's are clever!

Day 1:

While all these groups were being formed in the backdrop, the other course activities kept rolling. One of them was an appointment with the Medical Officer (MO) who checked our blood pressure.

I was doubtful of my ability to cope up with this course right from the beginning, I just didn't expect it to show up on the machine! (Tension version 1.0)
My pressure was horribly high and was noted down in red  along with 13 others.
I was told  I would be kept under observation for the next few days and if the blood pressure doesn't come down to normal , would be asked to leave and go home! ( Tension version 2.0)
"Being sent home because you cannot cope up" is at least better because you know you  tried.
But going back home without getting a chance to try , was a heartbreaking thought!

Day 2 : Rock Climbing 
( I was stuck on this surface for 20 minutes during jumaring. I couldn't pull myself up and since this was during the later half of the course, the instructor refused to help me. Me & Robin sir had a funny conversation here with me trying to convince him to pull me up and he telling me that he would leave me like that the whole night!)

I realized I had fears I wasn't aware of. I had attempted rock climbing back in school and never feared heights. But this time when I had to climb, I was shit scared! I couldn't trust my strength, or trust the fact that the ropes would hold me when I fall, or trust the Instructors who were experts in their field, or trust my shoes to give me enough support!

The first day at rock climbing site was filled with me dangling in uncomfortable positions on the rocks,  hitting different parts of my body against rough edgy  surfaces. I was bruised and in pain, and wondering whether being sent home would be a blessing in disguise. End of that day I had to report to the MO again to check the pressure! " It's still quite high! Come back again tomorrow!" (Tension version 3.0)

This was torture!
Here on whatever I was doing, I could feel the tension building up consistently. I could no longer crack a joke, or laugh at one or mingle with people. I was desperate to find a way to cool down. I listened to music, wrote my diary, but no!

Day 3: Equipment Introduction class

The only thing I remember hearing in that class was, "You will carry 16 kgs of backpack!!!!!!!"   ----> tension version 4.0

[Alert ! Danger! Danger!]

I could literally feel my entire system go into an emergency mode!

Wasn't I aware of this when I signed up for the course?
No! I hadn't done my research.

Wasn't I aware of this after I signed up for the course?
Yes! Different people told me different stories about BMC and HMI. They said you get perfect training to be porters! They said it was hard, very hard! I was painfully aware of the uphill task I had voluntarily signed up for. That is why I was so scared, but I couldn't back out without trying.

That evening when I went to check my pressure, I met the Nursing Assistant (NA). I opened up to him and told him I am horribly tensed because I was scared! He asked me to calm down, gave me time to sit in the medical room and get comfortable with it and then checked my pressure. It had come down a bit! But not much. I still had to report to him the next day. 

By then I didn't know what version of tension I was on. The only thing I knew was I couldn't handle it anymore! On the way back from the medical room I met Mr. Puri, our course senior. He would always come to give moral support to the 13 of us who had to make rounds to the MO. The moment he asked "what was it?" I started to cry. There is this thing about me and tears. I cry and I cannot control that urge.

Until then I knew Mr. Puri only as our course senior. After this incident and the way he calmed me down and stood by me for the rest of the course, we became good friends. I could go to him with any issue and he never dismissed the smallest of the complaints as being trivial.

These type of courses really show you what sort of a person you are! Usually people say that these courses show you what others are. But why should I be bothered more about strangers I meet at a course than knowing myself better?

A man and a woman being good friends never goes down well with anybody. So was the case with me and Puri. I needed him and I am not amongst those to back out because of what others feel. This was a mixed course, and we girls were being paired up with the guys we were seen with. It felt like we were back to college. I enjoyed every moment of this. Yes it really freaked me out sometimes , especially because there were other worries. But otherwise, this people gossiping about us thing never bothered me much.

Since he is a Navy officer, and some others knew him, they came and told me stories of him. Bad stories of course, stories that would make any girl back off from such a horrible man! But I hadn't gone to HMI to find a "Husband" for myself, or to fall in love. [ These things are the side effects of such courses] but not the aim. I told Puri what was being told to me and we discussed the situation and both of us were of the opinion that it is best to ignore such talk.

The day the blood pressure finally came down:

Day 4 was an "outing day" for us. So first, I got myself a nice relaxing head massage and then got myself checked by a beautiful physician in Darjeeling town. Maybe it was her beauty , I don't know but my pressure was  perfectly normal - 120/80. I made her to sign it on her letterhead, just as a proof if my pressure was still showing high at the Institute.

That evening when the pressure was checked, it was normal!

I could finally breathe!

All except 1 person was sent home because his pressure did not come down.

Now I knew for sure I would be trekking to the Base camp which was at 14,600 ft.

Level 1 of the course was cracked with  a lot of difficulty.
I decided I would take one day at a time. And I set my aims for the course:
1. No falling sick: So do the following properly:  eat, sleep , poop and drink loads of fluids!
2. No matter how you feel every single morning, get up, dress up, show up and never give up!

In my next post:
How I cracked Level 1 of the course, Getting to know your Rope, and Lectures at HMI

Please Note: I have noted the regional differences in personalities of participants as I observed during the course. It is not my intention to generalize about them. I may be wrong about the traits. But this is what makes India so diverse and difficult to comprehend! It is because people were so different that the experience was so rewarding. It was fun to observe the little fights and the little love stories!

I am not claiming that I am perfect ( I dislike perfection of any sort ), nor am I claiming that we konkani's did the right thing. We had our weaknesses, and the other's had their strength's. The fun was in watching all these different qualities clash against each other , and all of us put there in the midst of extreme weather and terrain......perfect combination for real life drama!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Basic Mountaineering course at Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and other stories- Part I - Introduction

One Basic Mountaineering course & thousands of stories!
Stories of courage, of fear, of passion, of friendships, of learning, of failing, of climbing and falling!
Stories of love & betrayal, of tears of relief and smiles of gratitude!
Stories of intense prayers, of beauty!
Stories of the mountains, of snow, of chilly winds and rocks!
Of peace, serenity!
And for me most importantly,
Of questions and answers!

People apply for this mountaineering course for several reasons!
Many  people who came there had resigned from their jobs and come to experience something different. Some wanted to explore a new sport, some to test their physical fitness, others for the love of mountains....and me?
For finding answers!

Eventually the regular life limits the learning of all the senses. Same people, similar work environment stunts the growth.
How then do I explore the different aspects of myself?
How do I push my limits?
Running on the treadmill in the gym doing better than I did yesterday aint enough.
Scoring better in that exam than my friends aint satisfying!
I wanted something that I feared, something I wasn't sure of myself in, something that tested me every single day and made me fight with myself!

HMI wasn't my idea. It was Vignesh's!
But this course was something that I had heard of in my school days and somehow missed the opportunity to attend it. So when he asked me 11 months back if I wanted to join him, I instantly said a yes.
Big plans were made about working out and preparing for it!
But none of the preparation could ever prepare me for what I was going to experience!

I was to travel to Darjeeling alone, by trains. I have never traveled so far by myself so I was nervous about it. The main question for worry was :
Are the Indian men going to harass or grope or rape me?

To tell you frankly, I was prepared for the worst!

The result?

Indian men, young and old have been more than helpful throughout the trip.
Strangers I met on the way, helped me with my luggage.
Had some interesting conversations with some young men in the trains on Indian economy, politics, Indian railways and what can be done to improve the system and education in India.

First I had Dilesh pick me up from Borivali and drop me at CST in Mumbai. I met Dilesh on Delhi airport in Feb 2014 when I was stuck in transit to Leh due to heavy snowfall! We don't know each other much, we might have spoken a few times at Delhi airport and then in Leh, got in touch through FB and a few chats on whtsapp.

In my journey from Mumbai to Kolkata, I met a young engineer from an elite Indian Institute named Nipun. The 52 hour journey passed by without me getting a chance to listen to one song on my mobile, or read one paragraph from the book I was carrying! We kept talking, laughing, sharing life stories and future plans!

When I reached Kolkata, I had Nitin to pick me up from the station. Nitin is my ex work colleague's college friend. I spoke to him just once on the phone from Goa, and spent one full day in Kolkata with him. It was a pleasure to roam the city in trams, metro , taxi's and buses with Nitin. We visited the Indian museum, ate delicious meals, did saree shopping ...well! we both bought saree's for our respective mom's and we did the city tour in the newly started AC Tram. And lastly I gorged on the delicious bengali sweets!

They say you don't fall in love twice!
They are wrong!
Over the last few months I have broken all records of falling in love!
I fell in love with Nitin while we rode the tram, and with Nipun while he intelligently got us both berths ( we were both allotted one seat- RAC 1 and had to share it.), and with many more men who helped, encouraged, motivated and loved me unconditionally!

28 days of mountaineering course was like watching several films on multiple screens around me! The adventure, drama and the excitement that started on day 1, refused to die down!

I will not mention names ( except a few), and will take creative liberty as and when needed.

Before I dive into the adventure again:

Special Thanks to:

1. HMI: For giving me the opportunity to experience mountaineering, the hospitality, learning and the love! Fantastic team there!

2. My Back up support: Parents, family, friends, bosses and office colleagues.

3. Quechua & Puma: Fantastic shoes! Miles of walking, not a single shoe bite!

4. Wet wipes: 1 month- just 2 baths! And still we walk out without diseases- thanks to wet wipes!

In tomorrow's post:

The story of  mysteriously rising blood pressure!!

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