The beckoning of Himalayas -Tales from the trek!

I was the official “@loser” of the trek. Well, my fellow trekkers awarded me with this hashtag because I had lost a glove, a cap, and almost my trekking pole and phone in a matter of four days. But I felt like a “loser” for a different reason:

The playful Beas River!
Just me and the hazy-hued zigzagged horizon!
lone cypress 1
Our friendly neighbors paying their daily visit!
Seven Sisters – View from the top!
Friendship Peak – nearing the end!
header for gratitue
Beas Kund – The Final Destination!

Sights of such surreal beauty bubbled my amateurish romanticism!

Up the sunkissed meadowy hill the wild sheep squeal Alive makes the foamy white’s playful spree downhill Oh, the lone cypress at ease Smell the mountain breeze Why cant this moment, the time freeze_! Clouds whistle a (1)

There is a trend amongst urbanites (like me) to do Himalayan trekking to cross off an item from their bucketlist.  Well, that may be so…but let me assure you there’s much more to it than just the lure of filling up that bucket of list and of picture-perfect Himalayan landscapes.

Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit lies the answer to the mystery why we climb – Greg Child

Its not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves! (2)

The Beas Kund (a glacial lake at 12866 ft from ground level) may be a moderate difficulty trek but the Seven Sisters (the mountain range that encircles it) always has something up their sleeves to make it push your mental limits. For us, it was the fresh snowfall which followed by the sudden rainstorm (enough to cause spindrift avalanches) made our waterbed trails full of gushing waters and the icy patches of the trail that much more slippery to trek on.

Well, if that doesn’t rock your mental boat, try negotiating the steepest, almost verticle parts of the summit climb with a vertigo or a sprained ankle! And for some, braving extreme exhaustion, nausea and fever to make it to the top. Numb hands whenever bared and teeth chills whenever a gulp of water get sipped!

But as our trek leader who kept reminding us, “it’s all in the mind!”…Once we conquer our minds, the mountains, the climb and the rest…all becomes easier to conquer! Eventually, the realization comes that courage is not the absence of fear but the strength to keep going.

If you want to climb, give up everything that weighs you down!

This just doesn’t apply to the physical baggage you carry, but more the mental one. An alpine climbing trip can be a crash course in letting go of your inhibitions…whether they be around using the open squatting pit toilets (which btw have a singular focus of testing your already aching glute and hamstring strength!) , or drinking the stream water which at times may smell of cow urine – (but hey, didn’t they claim gaumutra was good for health?!) or wearing the same pants for the nth day since every other pair is wet or surviving the claustrophobia of sleeping in the 6X2 sleeping bags (over pokey rocky surfaces within the 6X6 camping tents along with 2 other trekkies and 3 sets of gear!).  Or my personal favorite…stepping over mountain lizards and mules that want to eat from your plate! Due respect to those Decathlon hiking shoes for withstanding muddy slush, slippery waterbeds, icy slopes, verticle heights, and sometimes wriggly beings without complains! 

Washing with Frozen Detergent – an Alpine Art!
Cramped but cozy – causes less chills!
Drinking Water, straight from Nature’s Tap!
The Unabashed Mules
Snow camping!
Pit Toilets
Wriggly things!

But the brighter side is, you quickly learn to accept reality as it is! – saving you the trouble of spending 10 days meditating in Vipassanna to imbibe this very Buddhist doctrine. 🙂

The sense of liberation you get from embracing your fears/inhibitions seemed akin to the nirvana that Rishi-munis aspire for atop these peaks! 🙂

If you want to climb, give up everything that weighs you down! (1)

All the clichéd quotes about self discovery in the mountains are, perhaps true. Let me start with a self-afflicting realization wrt timeliness (a virtue that has somehow eluded my personal value system!). But you quickly realize how important it is, to keep time by your side, when you are faced with the vagaries of the mountain weather. In fact, the same applies to your own energy. “Go at your own pace; take a break when you feel tired.” – Isn’t this basic rule of climbing quite relevant for our non-terrained lifestyle?!,  I wondered.  But a more spiritually-laced one dawned on me into my third day of heavy backpacked-laden climbing- its about the distinction between our wants and needs (Blame our lifestyles to have created such a blurred line between the two!) It became quite apparent to discern between the two now than ever before…

You can go further, only if you carry what you need!  

Btw the mountain corollary to that is…what you need, is what you have to keep dear. (Remember, no power or “backup” on the mountains!)

Also, be assured that there will times you will come face to face with yourself through some of the solo stretches of the trek. It was one such beautiful moment, charged by the hazy-hued zigzagged morning horizon,  when I realized that I can be in perfect bliss in solitude as much as I can be, in the company of people and materialistic comforts.

just the pole
If you want to climb, give up everything that weighs you down! (2)

The most endearing part of the trek is that it can turn total strangers (of varying lengths, backgrounds and ages) into close comrades. Something to do with the fact that you connect with your fellow trekkers in a visceral way, no pretense, no distractions(read internet), and one common goal. The realization that we either climb as a team or don’t climb at all, makes us go the extra mile to look out for each other: whether it be sharing lunch when someone forgot to carry theirs, intuitively lending a hand at tricky crevices, reminding each other of the quintessential water breaks, or giving away your own cap or trekking pole because someone needs it more than you. And of course, the endless banter, some soul-seeking conversations, singing old favorites, the snowfights, to keep away the mountain blues.

In a reflective mode, I conclude that humaneness is as uplifting a nature’s creation as the Himalayas itself.   

If you want to climb, give up everything that weighs you down! (3)

Of all the things you experience, gratitude is the one that sticks. Gratitude for many things – this beautiful life, loved ones, but even more primally, this human form- for its ability to experience this in full glory and emotions, and your own body to have endured through the hardships so that you can enjoy the view from the top.

To have the mountains challenge you in many ways, push you to the breaking point and put you back into one piece. A piece more at peace, more uplifted, more spirited than before. The gratitude to be alive and to have lived each moment of this ethereal journey.


And now for the…..

If you want to climb, give up everything that weighs you down! (4)

May this serve as a motivation for all of you to keep fit! 🙂

ps. Yoga and meditation to keep the spirits high on the highlands! 🙂

In a much worth-mentioning addendum, I want to point out about some very interesting self-sustaining, green initiatives by our trekking company #IndiaHikes. They wholeheartedly believe in leaving the mountains in a better shape than they found it. And as a way to ensure that:
1. They require each trekker to bring their own cutlery and lunchware so as to reduce the waste up in the mountains.
2. All the trekkers carry an ecobag in which they are supposed to collect any trash (plastic, wrappers, etc) that they find on their way. At the end of the day, it all gets segregated and brought back down to be properly disposed off.
3. No wipes, no processed food packed in packages allowed during their trekking trips. They compensate by making the yummiest food at the alpine heights. 
Kudos to #IndiaHikes for taking care of our precious, most beautiful natural wonder.

Health Nirvana in a year!

3d7f4-blog2btitle2bimageLast year was quite transformational for me!
Up until last year, I had been leading a life of a normal, middle-aged, Indian working mom.  Life revolved around my family, work, home and my passion for traveling, writing, and socializing. Personal health and fitness remained a nagging thought but never had the audacity to move from the 2nd to the 1st quadrant of my important-urgent decision matrix.

ccdb6-untitled2bdesignBut how things change in a year! I’m 44 this year and feel like I’m in my best shape ever! I have dropped some weight; I have dropped two sizes and all my key body numbers (from BMI to cholesterol to glucose levels) are in the ideal range. Even the body composition monitor(fancy weighing machine) indicates my body age is 5 years younger than my actual age. It does feel like some Health Nirvana, that I never thought existed for an oldie like me!

So how did this happen?! – I see the question in the eyes of lot of my friends and family members who see me after a long time.   

Therefore, as my 2018 resolution, I have decided to share some nuggets of wisdom around fitness, nutrition and general well-being that I have uncovered or received from some phenomenal folks that have been instrumental in this transformation. And hopefully, over the course of the year, I aspire to bring forth more of these, as I continue to learn new ways of keeping fit and healthy.

Be Lean and Mean, Eat Protein

Everyone seems to have their own theory around food and nutrition.  But I will focus on the 80/20 rule that worked for me. I’ve always been a believer of a nutritionally balanced diet. But alas, our great Indian diet, as balanced as it seems, does fall short on protein. Shona Prabhu, a nutritionist that I met last year, introduced me to the concept of having protein in every single meal. You have to strive to get close to 1 gm of protein per every kg of your body weight.  But how does a vegetarian like me fulfill this requirement? Though I eat eggs, which are a great and complete source of protein, Shona introduced some excellent vegetarian sources of proteins like tofu, greek yogurt, locally available millets(jowar, ragi, bajra), peanut butter, sprouts, seeds like chia seeds, amaranth, pumpkin seeds and some interesting supplements like spirulina to my diet. Even my favorite Rajma-chawal* and chhole-chawal* has made to the list, so I get to enjoy them guilt-free!  FYI, here’s an useful chart I found on the net for vegan protein sources:
Btw, I’m not a big fan of milk or milk products for my daily protein requirement, esp. after what you hear about milk adulteration. But that’s just me. 🙂

The only bad workout is the one that you didn’t do! 

I started going to the gym as a curious bystander(getting inspired by my gymmer friends, Rahul Agarwal and Manisha Agarwal) and now it have become an addiction. Yes, this is proof you can get addicted to good things! But I know workouts can get boring over time!  My trick is to finish them in the mornings before my brain starts to make excuses. Nonetheless, I envy folks who can get their exercise through fun things like dancing, sports, kick-boxing, heck.. bike riding. Whatever you do, the key is consistency and to keep it challenging and fun. That’s when you see results! Group classes or buddying up are great ways to overcome exercise inertia. Trust me, peer pressure just doesn’t work in offices! Btw, if you are looking to lose those kilos or get to a size closer to zero, I find yoga with short-interval, high-intensity, strength-training to be the most effective. 

The first step towards change is awareness!

Being mindful of what you eat, how you eat, what you think, how you react to situations… is a crucial step in transforming your health. It’s a difficult art to master and I’m still figuring it out. But here are some mindfulness hacks I consciously try to practice. 

Mindful Eating

Long before the movie actor, Mahadevan popularized Drink your food and chew your drink, my Dad had been an expert at that art. Dad’s painfully slow, silent and focused food chewing sessions (a.k.a. lunch) were a bemusement to me growing up, but now I realize the science behind it. (They say, 50% of your food gets digested while in your mouth.) No wonder, he’s kept in great health all of his 77 years of life.  There are some other mindful eating tricks I use. Before I put anything in mouth, I always do a mental check. Often times, just the awareness is enough to help me make the right choice. I always eat a little bit (either a fruit or some nuts) before going to a party. That way I’m not tempted by those calori-fried kebabs. Remember, you can always nibble on your drink while others guzzle them up. Better waste it, than waist it, I say! 🙂

Minding your Mind

Stress does kill. But its a given with the kind of lives we lead. Therefore, its very critical that we detoxify and rejuvenate our mind on a regular basis. While there are many ways to do that, I find meditation like a gym workout for the mind. Last year I had the good fortune to try out the Inner Engineering program by Sadhguru. Ever since, I have engaged in their Sambhavi mahamudra. I feel its a great start to a journey towards mental detoxification. But you can pick your own form of stress busters…it could be as simple as deep breathing, a quick prayer, or even sitting quietly for 5 minutes. The point is to let go and reset.  

You need balance across all areas to lead a fuller, healthier   life – a balanced diet, work-life balance, emotional balance and   even bank-balance. 😉 I owe most of my fitness to a nutritionally balanced diet. But if you eat badly one day, you need to balance it by going easy (or even fasting) the next day. Or if you are caught up in a stressful situation at work, balance it out by some relaxing music on your way home or talking to a good friend or engaging in a hobby. The other way to look at balance is moderation. Overdoing work or play or eat or rest is never a good idea…Remember, Guilt is the most fattening emotion!  

A girl’s got to have her beauty sleep (well, even boys for that matter!)

Fortunately, I’ve always been a great sleeper.  I believe it’s the final and yet the most important step of my health routine. Our bodies need sleep to heal itself and restore its chemical balance.  Btw, did you know that you lose weight when you are sleeping? Weigh yourself at night before you go to bed and then again in the morning, you will notice that there is usually a difference of anywhere from 1/2 to 1 kg. Well, instead of beauty sleep, maybe we should call it skinny sleep! 🙂 There are many many health benefits to a good night’s sleep. So, please make sure you are sleeping at least eight hours a day. And try to go to bed at the same time, each nite. Unfortunately, this means you can’t be a regular at the late-nite shows/parties. Neither can you be spending your sleeping hours doing social networking..But that’s a small prize to pay for a longer, healthier life, right?! 

Feel your best, look your best, and get your best body back. That is my wish for all of you in this new year. 


Btw girls, trust me when I say this: 


ps. I’m sure lot of you have similar stories to tell! Please do share them..It may just inspire someone!  Also, would love to hear about fitness tips and hacks that you have found effective.