Trekking with the legend – Padma Shri Bachendri Pal Madam

Mam

Some things we never imagine in life, not even in our wildest dreams. Trekking with Padma Shri Bachendri Pal Madam was one such thing for me. It just happened.

During Young India Fellowship program, I got the opportunity to work on a project with TSAF, Tata Steel Adventure Foundation. Since the historical ascent of Mt. Everest in 1984, Bachendri Madam heads TSAF.

As part of the project, I, along with my two teammates, visited TSAF’s camp site in Uttarkashi for 3 days. Bubbling with excitement, we started our journey at 5 on a November morning from Delhi. After an exhausting day, we reached the camp site in darkness. Hemant, our Project head, introduced us to Bachendri Madam right before dinner. Well, I was no longer tired.

During dinner, we found out that there was a leadership course going on for a group of Tata employees. They were going for a 3 days trek. Bachendri Madam was also going with the group. We were supposed to accompany them on their first day. A trek with Bachendri Madam! It couldn’t get any better.

Next morning, we began the trek. Initially, we all started together but later my teammates, new to trekking, decided to slow down. To keep the interview going, I went ahead with Madam. I had already read her biography ‘Everest – My Journey to the Top’ and accounts of her other expeditions. But nothing could compare to listening to her experiences in her presence. It was a privilege.

Madam talked about her humble beginnings, her 1984 Everest expedition. I imagined the young Bachendri Madam in my mind; an ambitious young lady with nerves of steel. She attributed her success in life to the values given by her parents.

Bachendri Madam showed remarkable integrity from young age. On her successful ascent of Everest in 1984, she was showered with lucrative job offers. Everyone, be it government or private, wanted her in their organization. But Bachendri Madam chose to stay with Tata. In her own words, “Tata supported me when nobody knew me”.

After successful summit of Everest, Madam set up TSAF from scratch. She visited leadership schools outside India, did courses and learned from their experience. She overcame every challenge to build TSAF.

In my conversation with Bachendri Madam, I found a lady who was way ahead of her time. In spite of education and resistance from society, she chose a career in mountaineering at a time when people didn’t consider anything, except teaching, as a profession for women. She stood against evils of society from time to time. She faced the wrath of Indian society when she stood by the family of lovers boycotted by her village. She raised her voice against the suffocating norms of Indian society to help others. She successfully led all women Indo-Nepalese Everest Expedition in 1993 against the doubts of everyone. Her Trans Himalaya expedition, traversing Himalayas from Arunachal to Siachen, was an exemplary feat. Madam proved her mettle again and again.

In the evening, while talking to the two Everest trainees, Poonam and Swarnalata, I got a glimpse of Bachendri Madam’s impact in young people’s lives. As told by Poonam and Swarnalata, “We knew nothing. Bachendri Madam taught us how to talk, how to eat, how to take care of ourselves and how to be a good mountaineer, during our time in Everest Base Camp. She fed us with love when we visited her home.”. The girls were focused and excited for their impending training in Argentina in January.

The next morning, Poonam, Swarnalata and I trekked till near by Damini Top. We went running, singing old hindi songs and returned in half ‘n hour.

As I parted ways with Bachendri Madam, I couldn’t stop smiling. I’ll remember her 🙂

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Things to carry for mountains

If you have trekked in mountains with rucksack on your back, you know the struggle of keeping the weight to minimum, yet having all the necessary stuff. Having done a 7 days trek in Kashmir and basic mountaineering course, here are few things that I learned to keep in mind while packing for mountains.

Bag cover A must to have if you are traveling in rainy season. It’s better to pack all your stuff in a big polythene sheet before putting it inside rucksack.

Poncho/umbrella Again can’t do without in rainy/snowy season. If you go for poncho, make sure it’s of good quality. Umbrella may appear uncomfortable  at first glance but it helps better than poncho if you can walk with it. Choose as per your convenience.

Water Bottle Keep a 650 ml or 1 l bottle as per your need. Alhough water is available in mountains from rivers and streams, it’s better to know your route beforehand and decide accordingly. Some people prefer water bag with sipping pipe since unlike water bottle you don’t need to take it out of rucksack for use.

Sunglasses If you’re going to glacier or high altitude ice areas, keep one or more sunglasses unless you want to suffer from snow blindness for few days.

Sunscreen/buff Personally I rely on buff far more than sunscreen to protect my face from sun. It also saves my face from cold. Some people find it difficult to breathe through buff. You can use masks with openings around nose. Use sunscreen on any exposed area.

Gloves A good pair of gloves to keep your hands warm. Make sure the size fits you well. It’s better to have water proof gloves if you’re expecting rain or ice.

Long socks Help protect against snow, leeches etc.

Foot powder Smelly and sweaty feet is a common condition when traveling long in mountains.

Blister tape No matter how good one’s shoes are, one should always be prepared for blisters.

Wet wipes To save your ass, literally. Keep enough.

Vaseline Good to use on any chaffed area or otherwise too.

Torch Electricity is a luxury in mountains. I prefer head torch since it keeps my hands free. Remember to keep extra batteries as per your need.

Polythene zippers Good to keep things like mobile, money and daily dose of dry fruits.

Toiletries in small sizes.

P.S. I’d keep adding more to the list.

Green Trails internship

Like most of us, I am not living a highly environment conscious life when it comes to my day-to-day activities. But the increasing heat in summers, experiencing water shortage when living in Jamnagar (Gujarat, India) for a year as a kid, the occasional readings and videos about the shrinking glaciers and the hazardous waste being dumped in India by the developed nations, has often brought my attention towards our environment (It also led me to find out about the Masters course in Wildlife and Conservation. Another interesting thing 🙂 ). So when one of my friend sent me a link to Green Trails internship, I explored the idea.

Green Trails internship is a one month internship program in the Himalayas by Indiahikes. Indiahikes is a trek documenting organization. They also organize treks. So what led Indiahikes to the Green Trails project?

Well, trekking in Indian Himalayas was a rare sight in the 1990s. But it has gained significant momentum in the last decade. Nowadays we can identify quite a number of people around us going for treks in the mountains. Why do we go on treks? For the love of nature, the beauty, the serenity that those few days offer us away from the hustle of our city lives. But while we engage ourselves in this fun activity, we often neglect one important aspect of it. The waste we generate on these treks can potentially ruin the beauty and the nature of these places in the mountains in the decades to come.

Folks at Indiahikes realized the gravity of this early on. It led them to start the Green Trails project to make trekking in Himalayas a sustainable pursuit. Read here to know more about the Green Trails project.

The process to become a Green Trails intern is quite simple. First, send an email as mentioned on the website. In response to the email, you receive a questionnaire. It includes questions regarding your basic details as well as your common understanding of the cause. Next step is a Skype interview which informs you more about nature of the work and the project. Once selected, you get to know the location of the internship. It’s usually a remote Himalayan village. Your accommodation and meals are taken care of. If you finish the one month successfully, you get Rs. 2500 per week as stipend. You may also get a chance to go on one of the beautiful Himalayan treks organized by Indiahikes during your stay.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t join the internship due to my recent LASIK eye surgery. But I think one can make anything out of this one month. It can serve as an opportunity to learn about the ground level issues, to contribute by driving a project all alone and to experience the mountains with free food and stay.

Recently I also came across someone who studied environmental studies and made changes in her lifestyle to reduce the wastes that she puts out. Watch it in this video.

It’s a relief to come across people who are still doing whatever small contribution they are able to make towards the greater good. (And then we have world leaders who think Global warming is a myth. Sigh!)

Anyways, still optimistic 🙂

Lessons from the Mountains

Almost six months back, I went on an 8 days 7 nights trek to Kashmir. We were 5 people apart from the trek guides, cooks and few other helping hands. The trek started from Sonmarg, 90 km from Srinagar. We trekked a distance of 10-12 km in the mountains every day and pitched our tents near beautiful lakes every night (That’s why the trek is called Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. It encompasses Nichnai river, Vishnusar lake, Kishansar lake, Gadsar lake, Satsar lake and Gangabal twin lakes). We trekked through mountains of varied texture: some of them covered with grass, few with bare soil – found them the most risky due to insufficient grip while others covered with large boulders – found them safest but strenuous to trek. I was mesmerized by the view of glaciers – mountains covered with vast thick white ice sheets. It led me to venture out to reach the glaciers on two different occasions. I failed in my attempts but that’s when I learned about my fears and the mightiness of mountains. Although I managed a much closer yet so distant view of those glaciers. May be some other time! 🙂

On the first occasion, we reached our destination camp site for the day early in the afternoon. After lunch and a nap, I, along with a fellow trekker, went to see the lake which was few hundred meters away from our camp. The lake was greenish-blue in color. On the left side of the lake stood the giant, partially covered with ice sheet, guarded by one or two mountains in the front. The guard mountain, adjacent to the lake, had a bare texture with few shrubs growing here and there. As I expressed my mind to try going closer to the glacier mountain, I was joined in the pursuit by the fellow trekker. We began our ascent by the side of the lake. There was no clear trail to go up from that side. Half way up the mountain, I realized that I am not completely devoid of acrophobia, especially when there is a lake at the base of the mountain (don’t know swimming yet 😐 ). Anyway there was no going back. When we reached the top of the guard mountain, the sun began to set in. I found out there was still a mountain to cross before we could step on the glacier mountain. We decided to descend to our camp. In the hindsight, I knew ‘Be sure to think about getting down, before climbing up a mountain’.

The second opportunity appeared on the second-last day of the trek. It was a rest day since we had trekked 23 km the previous day. We had our camp set near Gangabal lake. The lake is situated at the base of the magnificent glacier – the harmukh peak. The guide told us that it’s the highest glacier in that region. The peak of the glacier was eclipsed by clouds. I, along with a fellow trekker, decided to trek as close as possible to the glacier. We informed the trek guide about the direction we chose to trek in. We also asked them to look for us after 3 p.m. We started from our camp site a little late around 11 a.m. after the lazy morning. First hurdle on our way was a brook flowing to the lake. The flow was fast and the rocks were slippery. We managed to cross it safely after spending more than 30 minutes looking for an ideal spot to cross it. We trekked for next two hours before we reached a beautiful cliff. The rocks on that cliff made a natural throne like structure. It was an idyllic spot. The large lake looked so tiny from that height. Our tents were difficult to spot. We could see the glacier clearly from that place though we were still one or more mountains away from it. That’s what I experienced; mountains deceive our perception. The peaks always felt so close but were still so far away. We had a granola bar in lunch and decided to return since we were already late. We reached back to the camp at 5 p.m. just before the trek leaders began to look for us.

IMG_20160929_125911.jpgThe Harmukh glacier 🙂

I couldn’t reach the glaciers but those journeys were worth the efforts. 🙂

Mountains are magnificent natural creations but they are harsh too. After all; nature doesn’t bend its rules for anyone.

Adventures are good but we better be sagacious to know when to turn back because it’s always about the journey.

Enjoy trekking 🙂