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.

gratitude

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.

10 hacks to eating right, while still living your life!

After reading the blog on my health nirvana, one of my neighbors, Amitabh Saxena, got inquisitive, 

“You write about eating right, but I travel for work for most part of the month. I’m in a different country every few days. This is my life. Now, how do I eat right while living it?”

Well, eating healthy shouldn’t mean you have to stop living your life. You just have to find some hacks around it.  So here are 10 hacks for you, Amitabh! I think they will be equally useful to everyone else.

Eat breakfast like a king…

Always book hotels that offer a good breakfast buffet spread. And by good, I mean the ones where you can see lots of colors and a live egg station. Load up on your macro-nutrients during breakfast and you can be less guilty of those less balanced lunches or dinners. 

This is my typical “travel” breakfast:

  • breakfast2 servings of fruits
  • 1-2 eggs (I would replace eggs with plain yogurt, If I feel like going vegetarian)
  • 1 piece of multigrain bread
  • 1 serving of oatmeal with some nuts, dates or seeds (if traveling in India, I would probably replace it with a idli or poha or upma)
  • And lastly, some warm tea (with a tinge of milk)

I’ve found this breakfast doable in India as well as while traveling abroad.

As they say, well begun is half done.

Drink (right) before you eat (right or wrong)!

My friend, Kaushal Dalal, MD of FireEye India, a frequent work and leisure traveller himself, can be seen sipping water every half hour.  His mantra is to drink water before meals, esp. when he is traveling. (If you cannot eat a healthy meal, well, just eat less of it!) Water does make you feel full, so you automatically eat lesser.

My personal hack to that is to drink hot water. (It seems to be China’s go-to beverage and I have yet to come across an out-of-shape Chinese! :)) Hot water stimulates digestion and flushes out toxins, amongst myriad other health benefits.

So, next time before you ask for the menu, ask the waiter for hot water. Don’t worry…the waiter will not look at you weird, unless you are in the US of A! 

“Healthy Snacks” does not have to be an Oxymoron

Deepak weights
Deepak, doing 400 pounds of deadlifts!

Another friend, Deepak Balakrishna, Founder/CEO of Adya and a bodybuilder by passion, swears by yoga bars as an anytime snack. He carries them to office, to his business trips, to family outings..basically everywhere. These pocket-sized packs offer a nutritionally balanced snack option.

But what if bars don’t tantalize your desi taste buds?! carry chikkis instead. Try these individually wrapped PaperBoat chikkis!

Or try roasted peanuts, chana or makhanas (lotus seeds)!  Thanks to the nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar, these old-time classics are back in vogue. And rightfully so!  Hmm..but what if you are allergic to nuts? Well, nothing like a cup of yogurt with local fruits or dried fruits.  Btw, some dark chocolate now and then, never hurt anyone.

Plan your food (like your itinerary)

Abhishek Goyal and Neha Singh, co-founders of Tracxn Technologies, tell me that they shamelessly carry a 12X12 dabba(lunchbox) to office everyday. It caters to every whim and fancy of their taste buds and nutritional needs throughout the day. Yes, this does need planning and flawless management. (Given how successfully they manage their start-up, I’m guessing it is in their DNA!)

But what about the rest of us, the not-so-meticulous planners?! Deepak recently started ordering his office lunches from a food service called cure.fit. He prefers their athletic lunches which has the right quantity of proteins, carbs and fats, suited for his needs. So even if he misses lunch from home, he doesnt have to miss out on the right lunch! 

restaurant guideWhile you can’t carry your dabba when traveling overseas, you can always follow the Fafat! By that, I mean my cousin, Priya Fafat, who makes digital notes of nearby grocery stores and restaurants (based on type of cuisines, food options(organic, veg-friendly),menu choices) as part of her travel itinerary. The point is…you cannot go hungry or not eat according to your needs, if you travel like her.

When in doubt, fine-dine!

Not just because you want to spend your per-diem in style! 🙂

There are health benefits to eating your dinners at fine-dining restaurants.

  • For starters, they are more open to custom orders and special requests. You can ask them to go easy on the oil/cream, replace white rice with brown or even create a new dish per your dietary needs.
  • A fine-dining experience inherently involves eating slower and having gaps between your courses. A great way to digest your food!
  • And God willing, you should land up in a French restaurant, they take extra care of your health by presenting you with the smallest of portion sizes (Even their menu-pricing is prohibitive to you over-eating!) 
  • And finally, the setting does add to the joy of dining…releasing your “happy” hormones.

ps. If you can’t fine-dine, go local. Krishna, Kaushal’s wife, insists on eating local cuisine during trips.  It invariably lends to a fresher meal; you experiencing different food groups, and opening up your mind to newer tastes…all good for your overall well-being!

Don’t drink empty calories

empty caloriesAny beverage pre-packaged in a bottle or a can (except water) is generally not a healthy drinking choice. Instead try and stick to green teas, black coffee, coconut water or freshly squeezed juices.

But what about those adult drinks? Well, IMO, the above rule of thumb should still apply. But if your business rituals revolve around alcohol, here are some dos and donts:

  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. (There’s a reason why they hand out nuts and olives before your beers! )
  • Show a little compassion to your liver…Don’t mix junk food and drinks.
  • If you cannot do anything of this, please drink water between your drinks.
  • Finally, don’t treat the corporate card as a license to binge drink! (This will serve good for your professional and personal life! :))

Out-Exercise your dinner

According to the Calories in, Calories out (CICO) principle, balance your calories by offsetting your big meals by an equally burly exercise routine. Check out this exercise routine from Ruchika Choudhary, the fitness trainer and nutritionist in our apartment complex. It has been specially designed for busy professionals who may not have access to a gym or lot of time on their hand, during their travels.

Note: Do 5 of these sets in 15 minutes and you should be home free for the rest of the day.

Pack your Vitamins

All said and done, its difficult to always get nutritionally balanced meal when you step outside.  I always pack my multi-vitamins when I travel. VitaminB12, Vitamin D3 and Omega 3 supplements are my staples. (alongwith pudinhara for when the meals get too out of balance! ) BTW, “if you are a gym junkie or a serious athlete, make sure you carry your protein powder along with your trainers,” recommends Ruchika.

The secret to “staying” fit: Location, Location, Location

locationIMO, the best location for a hotel is within walking distance to a grocery store and a jogging track. 🙂

The best place for a longer stay is at an airbnb home or at a friend’s pad.  Basically, where ever you can have access to a kitchen.

 Btw, If you frequent the same city, you should try and stay at the same hotel every time. There are covert benefits to making yourself familiar with the hotel staff. For one, they can get you off-menu items!   

Also, it helps to be savvy about local food-tech!  Instead of constraining yourself to hotel room service, you can usually order a healthier meal from a freshmenu or a swiggy or even a bigbasket equivalent.

Finally, go easy on yourself!

If you stress too much about eating right all the time, even the right foods will not serve you right. So, enjoy your food and eat in moderation, and it will all work out (with some workout! :)). 

 

A parting note: I wouldn’t have been able to compile this without the tips from my friends. So thank you Kaushal, Krishna, Deepak, Abhishek, Neha, Priya and Ruchika. It seems each one of us has figured out some hack to healthy eating…while traveling or otherwise. So next time, you are having a business dinner, why not use the topic as a conversation starter?! I’m sure it will be a win-win discussion.