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!
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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.

5 healthy habits I picked up from my Europe travels

“Travel is a sure shot way to gain kilos.”  That’s a pet peeve I hear from friends. (This despite my earlier blog on How to travel right? :)) One of whom refrains from long vacations just to maintain her figure. So unfair to the myriad beautiful destinations waiting to be explored, I say! So this time, I had the perfect opportunity to put that theory to test. 

To everyone’s surprise including mine, I came back fitter and definitely leaner(by a kilo) from my 3 week vacation across Europe.

leaner me
Feeling fit and lean…this on day 18 of the trip! 🙂


I do realize Europe makes for a skewed destination for such an experiment. Nonetheless, it made for some great observations and learnings.

So here’s my harder look at why French (well, err..generalize it to European) women (or men, for that matter) never get fat…(besides their sworn allegiance to fit into French designer coutour!) and what can we learn from them! 

1. The world, your gym!

What do you notice as soon as you step outside your hotel in Prague or Paris? Well, what I noticed even before the medieval marvels that these cities have to offer, was the fact that the entire city is on its feet, literally! On close consideration, I figured that the cities are actually designed such (with its picture-perfect town squares, beautiful bridges, and cobblestone streets) that they inspire everyone to walk. And so everyone does! In fact, most of the working population in Europe commute via public transportation, which again involves significant walking or biking.

The bike-to-work culture in Europe!

In many cities esp. Paris and Copenhagen , they have fancy open gyms alongside river banks, parks, and just about every open space. Come evening, the young and the adult, locals and many non-locals, are all  seen bench-pressing, squatting, pulling and pushing-up together, pumping each other up. 


Iceland has taken it to another level…with an average of 2 public free-for-all swimming pools for every 500 residents (which to my surprise, were full even on rainy days)! 

swimming pool

Btw, in Europe even grocery buying can add to one’s fitness quotient! Instead of the weekly supermarket trip, grocery buying in Europe involves daily rounds to local in- or outdoor market, bakery, or butcher, scouting for and picking up fresh ingredients for the next meal. This ritual, followed by one and many, invariably lends to significant walking carrying bagful of heavy groceries home everyday. Quite a synonymous equivalent to the weights and walkers in the gym, I gather! 

grocery bags

Well, and even as a tourist, you are not spared from your daily dose of exercise..i.e. if you haven’t averaged between 5-10 kms of walking and climbing everyday, you cannot do justice to the centuries-old architecture, medieval facades and hidden alleyways, so quintessentially European.

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Stroll and stride with uphill climbs, if you want to conquer all the hidden sights! 🙂

In short, even if you are not exercising in a fancy, fully-equipped gym everyday, you are getting fitter with the European way of life. 

Indulge in the European way of life ! Be active and start walking! 

2. Little goes a long way!

Moderation begins with portion sizes in Europe. Just like their clothing and shoes, their food and beverage portions are also a size smaller.  A point in case is the European version of a coke can available on British Airways. This can is 150 ml, 32% smaller than the U.S. Coke Mini and 58% smaller than the standard U.S. can.

coke can

The miniature frenzy does not end there. During the course of the trip, I encountered miniature versions of Magnum ice-creams, Lindt chocolates and even gourmet burgers! In fact, I found out that the average portion size in general is 25% lesser than in the USA.

mini burgers

 Even the size of their fridges is smaller! No wonder there is little chance of storing and preparing food in big quantities! No wonder, they make less and they eat less.  But in somewhat strange contrast, you do notice those quaint lil street-side cafes always full of people enjoying a bite, anytime of the day! So what gives?

Outdoor cafe, Piazza Navona, Rome, Lazio, Italy, Europe

That is when I figured out that little goes a long way in Europe. I believe they compensate for their small portion sizes by eating slower! While the Americans are getting excited about super-sizing their fast foods and gulping it down even faster, the europeans seem to savor their diet-sized servings with cleansing swirls of vino, overlooking the beautiful rivers and vistas, in the company of their loved ones! Beyond the health benefits of the food itself, the ritual of eating is a source of pleasure and an important social experience. This leads to more mindful eating practices, and is better for the overall digestive system.

Cook little, Make fresh, Eat slow! And with good company! 

Indulging in the European way of eating…with a smile and some friends!


3. Eat like a European

Europeans, like Indians, have a knack of drawing on the best of what is in season to produce regional delicacies. Thanks to the abundance of local markets offering everything fresh and seasonal one can think of!

Well, and they seem quite religious about their regional diets…Take for example, the Italians, Greeks and Spanish who live off their Mediterranean diet and in turn enjoy long healthy lives…Their diet includes mostly locally available foods such as tomatoes, avocados, olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables,  fresh fish and even pasta. pasta-fat

Even though some seasonal/locally available foods may not always seem the most nutrient-dense option…in effect, can still prove to be more beneficial. First, they typically contain what we require at that time of the year and environment. But more importantly, they are part of one’s food heritage making these foods closely attuned to one’s genetic predisposition.

Their diets also include comparatively more raw and unprocessed foods. I couldn’t help but notice the well-stocked aisles of colorful salads, mueslis, fruit pots, cold-cut sandwiches, cold-pressed raw juices at the pret-a-manger store at the Heathrow airport. The fact that it was the most crowded hangouts at the airport say a lot about the locals’ affinity towards natural and unprocessed food choices. In fact, I found this trend across European airports…Each one had many options, whether it be a salad or a sushi bar, fresh sandwich delis or even organic raw presseries. Needless to say, I indulged in these locally available, fresh food options where ever I could lay my hands on them. 

Pret-a-manger food aisles- Putting those aisles of chocolates and chips  to shame! 🙂

You cannot go wrong with local, seasonal or fresh foods.

4. Eurosize the breakfast

In Iceland, the staple breakfast is skyr(local greek yogurt with fruits) and rye bread. skyr

In Prague, the hotel served us hot porridge, salads(yupe…with tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce), and eggs as the main breakfast items. prague breakfast

Well, interesting deviation from the plateful of pancakes, bowlful of sugary cereals, or platter of processed meats, the hotels in the other parts of the world serves as breakfast!  For lot of Europeans (esp. the French), breakfast is nothing but a slice of freshly baked bread/croissant, some fruit with tea or coffee. The Spaniards will usually have tomatoes and olive-oil on bread for breakfast. And the English seem to love their porridge in the morning. Now this may seem small and boring but seems to do the trick for them.

 Don’t treat breakfast as dessert. A basic breakfast (Think bananas, eggs, porridge, or any locally available fresh breakfast option) can serve you better!


My version of an eurosized breakfast – Egg, avocado and tomato on a slice of bread!

5. Indulge in some Vegan Vibes! 

Europeans seems to be leading a covert vegan revolution. In the most popular of town squares in Prague, I found a farmer’s market selling vegan stuff…local fruits(helps that they are a “fruits heaven”), berries, vegetables, desserts, and even vegan black ice-cream.

prague farmers market
Selling Veganism as a concept!


black icecream
the frightfully black vegan icecream! 🙂


Eating vegan has never been easier in Europe, with its top cities boasting of variety of top Tripadvisor recommended vegan eateries. Berlin even has a Vegan Avenue which is lined with vegan restaurants, bars and cafes, alongside  the world’s largest vegan grocery store. 

vegan avenue
The famous Vegan Avenue in Berlin!


They have mastered the art of making meat-substitute products such as sausages and chicken nuggets out of plant proteins such as soy, wheat or tofu…Their cashewnut gravies, pumpkin curries, quinoa meatballs all boast of how beautifully they have adapted the vegan principles to regional cooking. The proof of the pudding was that not once did we have to resort to Indian food in our three week travel! In fact, the options at the vegan restaurants spoilt us for choice.  And the vegan meals turned out to be some of our fanciest and most enjoyable meals.


Try being vegan for a change. You will surely discover new food options that are healthier, tastier, and more importantly, environmentally friendly.

Actually, travel is what you make out of it. It is not the place, it is how you look at the place that makes a difference. In my case, I allowed myself to look at Europe (or my trip) through my “fitness and well-being” glasses, and that is what it offered me.

But I’m not saying that if you are going with all your health-consciousness, you shouldn’t be indulging in the local dessert (like the delicious trednik) or a locally brewed beer during your travel…(in fact, we did it too) but let your gut drive you! Its a very self-regulating system if you give it a chance.

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Some things in life are meant to throw caution to the winds…Trednik is one of them! 🙂

ps. Still, who would have thought that a trip to Europe could also offer in(sights) of personal well-being?!  But now I know why…Europe is always a good idea! 🙂