Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Summing Up 2014

Lago Torre, Patagonia Argentina
This time around while summing up the year 2014 that just whizzed by I am completely determined to avoid intricate statistics lest it leads to three mainstream reactions among my readers (like it usually does) – one of admiration (I like this one, especially when I get those delicious mails from delicious women); one of envy; and one of utter disbelief (many believe all these travels and climbs of mine are pure fiction and products of my over productive imagination).

Suffice it to say that I did not travel much in 2014, barely 10 countries in four continents and crossed the Atlantic only four times and kissed the Pacific shores twice. Climbed very moderately and only till around 7000m. Visited only two places that are rarely visited by human.

Air miles covered must be in the region of 100,000 if not more but then this is merely an average human being I suppose. Despite all precautions taken, the year ended with a black tipped nose due to carelessness on my part and a very cold storm in the mountain’s part.

The highlight of the year as always were the wonderful new friends (read women) I made and the old ones I connected with and rejuvenated from the point where we had earlier parted.

My writings suffered obviously as ideas and stories kept cramming my empty head but I simply found no time or means of putting them down in black and white. I wonder how soon I should call my vagabond life to a much needed pause and get down to writing.

Literal high of the year being the summit of Aconcagua in Argentina and the literal low of the year being the shores of Baku in Azerbaijan.

Some mega budget proposals came my way though none of them materialized due to various reasons; either I wasn’t available or the proposal didn’t pass my ethical standards or the proposer thought I was too cocky for my boots. Sometimes I do quote an astronomical figure when I don’t want to do something yet don’t want to say ‘no’.

The saving grace though were a series of 50 short articles I wrote for India’s prime online travel portal; each measuring 600 – 800 words outlaying some of my travels and climbs and also tips for adventure travel.

Nothing more to add and nothing less to subtract and I hope I achieved my mission of keeping it short sharp and snappy. Wishing you all an exciting 2015 full of dreams and drama, adventure and adrenalin (mine surely is).

And to all my friends: keep rolling for rolling stones gather no moss and they remain fresh and shiny, while to all my enemies: go climb a mountain.   

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ten Reasons why Flying is riskier than climbing Everest

Crossing crevasse on Everest

I often have discussions with friends and well-wishers about the element of risk involved in my ordinary day to day life and I always insist that my life has far less risk than a regular city dweller; where she crosses the roads, drives, drinks tap water, etc each such so-called mundane activity that is actually very high on risk element. We simply do not realize this that your life is at a much higher risk than mine, especially when I climb those stupendously steep walls of ice or step into the death zone. So to give you a point by point comparison, I have picked up two supposedly diametrically opposite activity that can be grasped by all. Let’s say I am climbing Everest and you are just boarding a flight to a vacation or work; here are the ten reasons why you are taking a much higher risk than I: -

Saturday, November 15, 2014

All about Self

Two days back I received a message from a friend who I hadn’t met or communicated for a good number of years. We were in love once. I still am and I am guessing she too is though it’s now more like you love a fool since he is a source of entertainment. The message in exact these words –

“People say you are still alive and I hope you are, yet I think you must be dead frozen stiff actually stuck to one of your silly vertical ice walls in some silly godforsaken corner of the planet. I don’t think you would ever read these words, at least not in your earthly avatar and being dead why would you even care to read mails even if you had the technology to do so. Do they have internet in heaven or hell or wherever in between places you might be? Oh goodness, what a silly question. Now the real question is if you are already dead, according to my presumption, why I am even writing this message to you! I am writing to you because I need to write to my own self, to my soul and I can only do so by writing to you; the only man who reached into my soul and discovered me to me. I cannot write or talk to my own self since it doesn’t listen but when I write or talk to you it goes silent and listens. You are the only one who can silence me into hearing what I need to say to myself. You fathomed me you discovered me you expanded me you buried me annihilated me made me extinct and only after that did you bring me alive to show me what it is like to be me. It was never about you or us, it was always about me, even when you told me your stories of madness and laughter, they were all about me. When you glorified your mistakes and underplayed your triumphs it was still about me. When you kissed me and held me in your arms and whispered that you loved me it was all about me because only by making it all for me made any sense to you. When you left me for the mountains not telling me where you went and if ever you would return it was again for me and when you returned or appeared like a ghost out of my dreams into my life it was all for me. As long as I had you with me I didn’t realize that all I had to do to keep you with me was to keep me with me so I suffered in anguish and pain each time you left and since you never said what was meant to be. I realized all this when you were gone without promise to return. Faced with an emptiness I knew not how to handle or if I even needed to I turned to every word you had ever uttered and to every gesture you ever made or words you wrote and slowly like an archaeologist sifting and brushing through immense debris of time I found that I had you always with me even before I knew you existed since I always had me. You may ask do I need you now and honestly I must tell you that no I don’t need you like I need air to breathe or water to live but yes like I love the scent of a fragrant rose in the air I breathe it would be wonderful if I could breathe you. If you are dead I wish you eternity of love and life and if you are still alive then I wish you many more years of silly craziness. You will never be me and I will never be you; I will always be me. Since I don’t thank the air I breathe every moment I am not going to thank you, acknowledgement of the obvious is neither needed nor desired. It is only to be acknowledged as being there. You are there because I am there. You are not there for me because you are there for you as I am there for me. If you ever read this message then perhaps you would smile and think of me but I know that you will never reach out to me since I already have me. When we love someone or something even beyond the point of necessity then it is enough to just love and be. Let us just be.”

Sometimes even that is obvious must be stated, so as you can see – I am very much alive, I will not respond to this mail, I will not correct or edit her grammatically challenged message and the only reason I put this here is to increase the number of posts in my blog by one. As it so happens I have so much to write in so many platforms these days that my own blog is suffering my procrastination so there it is. Like they say (I still don’t know who this ‘they’ is) – live like you will die right now and love like you never will.

I am out of here, seriously!

Live UP Don't Give up

Einstein once said that we truly fail when we give up; as long as we do not give up we continue to progress and learn and even if we do not achieve the desired outcome at the end of the day, we do not fail.

We can pause, we can ponder, we can change our tactics and strategies, we can rest and recuperate, but we can never give up. Giving up is a finality like quitting, to not continue to pursue what you truly wish to achieve leads to real failure. As long as you do not give up you are on the journey of discovery.

Life is such that almost nothing would ever happen exactly the way you plan or wish it to happen. You never made a plan to read these words, but you are here right now reading this post. And you have no idea how far or close you might be to your goal. You don’t know when things will start turning your way and which doors will open when you knock hard enough. You do not know what the horizon will bring you unless you have climbed high enough to peek beyond. The goal of having a goal is only so you begin the journey. The journey is important and the only way you can keep it going is by never giving up.

The initial goal with which you might have started your voyage would eventually shift, transform and modify, so even if you don’t achieve that goal it is not a failure since it isn’t a goal anymore in the present. But what is important is the journey that you began and upon which you are embarked right now. There’s no way you can give up on the journey just because you didn’t find the milestone on the way that you wanted to cross. Because I am sure you have crossed that milestone already or soon you would but your eyes didn’t sense it or you crossed it far high above. If you walk along a meridian in a perfect straight line; you would keep crossing latitudes every moment, which means that you are crossing every point on earth that lies on that latitude. You won’t see most of these points, yet you have crossed them.

There is no fixed goal there is no constant ideas or unchanging dreams. The failure in life is to believe that there are. All we have and would ever have is the journey upon which we are. Upon which you would always be no matter how fast or tardy you move or in which direction. Just do not willingly stop the journey. As long as you live the journey must continue and there is no giving up on it.

Like the rabbit told Alice: if you don’t know where you want to go then any direction you walk is fine and you will certainly reach a place that you don’t know if you want to go if you walk long enough.

The walking part is vital in our lives. Everything emerges out of it.

Once someone asked me if all my philosophies on life and living comes from the mountains and nature and I assured him that they most certainly do.

Look at a trickling stream that emerges out from the snout of a Himalayan glacier; when it did, I am sure it did not plan nor did it have any idea of where or how it is going to go. The cliffs it would cascade from giving birth to enchanting waterfalls, gurgling brooks through the alpine meadows, sinuous trails through villages and then forming a frothing river through valleys and towns finally joining the great oceans of the world.

The entire journey happened at random yet it is perfect. We cannot plan a better journey for that little trickle from the glacier snout.

Perhaps physically it is not possible for humans to be like this trickle but mentally and spiritually we should strive to be such. To be ready to follow the fancies of nature and mind and to keep moving and forever changing; expanding to embrace horizons as well as shrink into a snowflake if necessary. Who can tell if you succeeded or failed? What could define if goals were met or not? How can we say if you lived for a cause or in vain?

All we can say is that you lived; and that my friend is more than what can be said for many of us.

If you truly lived you succeeded. Don’t give up. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Who Defines your Reality

Many years back I met a recently crowned Ms World, whom the media had touted as the most beautiful woman in the world (obviously). So I asked her if she really believed that; and she said an emphatic ‘Yes’. I took another ten minutes to show her that it wasn’t an objective truth and there’s no way that she was the most beautiful woman on Earth. Her title was true only after applying so many variables and factors and limiting criteria that by the end of our discussion the poor girl was literally walloping in her real tears. So I consoled her by saying that it really didn’t matter what I or anyone else said, and she really did not have to go for a breast lift or dental fix to be truly the most beautiful woman; all she needed was to believe and that’s all. We became friends and very soon she totally felt as the most beautiful woman ever in the history of mankind and didn’t give a damn to her title or to the media or to anyone saying anything at all. Even after all these years, with a twenty year old kid and a belly line that slightly bulges around her bikini bottoms, she believes that she is still the most beautiful woman on Earth. And I totally agree.

That’s the power of positive belief that creates your own realities. Your reality is what you want to believe.

Man of Leisure

When I was still in my teens (I am still there mentally though), I had read a short story about a man of leisure; it was a great story of a Scotsman who simply lived a life of leisure, doing or not doing anything that he did or didn’t want to do. He wasn’t tied down by any other conditions of life; everything depended upon his wish. That to me had seemed a charming way of living; live the way you wish, do what you want and do not do what you do not want to – very simple. Over the years in search of true freedom I never realized that I too had become a sort of man of leisure. And just few days ago a distant friend (distant in distance) pointed out to me that I was a man of leisure; which, she promptly added, was the pipe dream of most men and women anyway.

Due to my faltering and blistering grasp of the language, I first checked the online Oxford Dictionary (don’t tell me you still own and consult a paper real dictionary) for the definition and it proclaimed – a person who does not need to earn a living. Which in effect means he or she can do whatever he pleases and hence whatever he does is his leisure activity and doesn’t have to bother if the activity gets any money or not. So if your activities are not bound by the need to earn money then whatever you are and do becomes leisure (or so I suppose). Consequently, which means, that everyone who has to earn a living is not a person of leisure.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Possession is self defeating

Today let’s look at one of the greatest lessons nature has taught me that possessiveness is self-defeating; you cannot possess without losing and when you do not possess you cannot lose.

What do we really need to live, I mean ‘really, really’ - air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat. Can we possess any of these things; and come to think of it, do we ever even want to possess them. Have you ever thought, when you breathe in the sweet mountain air or the invigorating ocean breeze that this air should belong to you and only to you, or when you drink water (perhaps you feel possessive of the water bottle in a hot summer day) that only you should have the privilege to clean drinking water, or that all food should only be for you. I don’t think any of us have ever thought about these things, even though without these three we cannot be alive. Despite being absolutely essential to live, we do not feel possessive about these three. We don’t mind when 7 billion other human beings and countless other animals breathe in the same air from the same atmosphere, or drink water, or eat food. Similarly when the sun rises each morning we do not feel possessive about it and do not want to own it, so is with any other celestial body or the ocean or the sky.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

TEDx Thessaloniki - events of an EVENT

This story is part fantasy, part fact and part fiction and then some. Many of the things described here happened, some didn’t, some I wish had happened and some I wish hadn’t plus the people are real as my imagination could conjure them up but some are more real than others and some are more imaginary than their real counterparts. So please exercise caution and discretion not necessarily in that or any order as you skim or sink or swim through this one. Life without pun is no fun and I take intentional dig at everyone; that they approve the victims of my dig, I am not sure but I presume they do and also allow me literary digression as well as liberty. So here goes a first hand and totally true account of something entirely fascinating, alluring, charming and decidedly desirable that I am willing to experience again and again.

Everything that begins or happens has a genesis and mine was in a mail written by a beautiful Amazonian woman I happened to chance upon in the by-lanes of Zurich near the end of previous year. Don’t ask what I was doing in so drab a place and I have no idea what she was doing their either, but fate made our paths cross and then collide into close proximity. We exchanged mail address and mobile numbers and became FB friends just like it happens to anyone these days you even remotely meet anywhere across the planet. And then everything quietened. I went away winter climbing, trying to kill myself in various ways, while this woman of my dreams disappeared into her own world perhaps trying to kill someone else in her own ways. Long story short, I never heard back from her and neither did I drop her a line till a fine morning I found a mail from her in my inbox asking me to be the saviour and pathfinder (Moses like) for the vagrant and disillusioned Greek youth. Oh, did I forget to tell you that she was from Greece!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Everest Climbing and Death - An Objective Summary

Everest Base Camp from South with Khumbu Icefall in the center
People have been dying on Everest ever since human started attempting to reach its summit. Number of people who have died on Everest as on date stand around 265 with number of people who have summitted at 4042. This gives us a 6.5% death rate; which is not such an alarming figure at all. On 18th April this year, 16 Sherpa guides died in one avalanche making this the worst accident on Everest ever, plunging the climbing world into a raging storm of debates. Among the dead I lost three very close friends, whom I had known for decades.

Even though high altitude mountain climbing is among the most dangerous activities on Earth, people do not die proportionately to the risks involved since mountain climbing is a very specialized activity that is undertaken by experienced and qualified climbers and since we know that it is dangerous, it is done with utmost caution and after all due training. Whereas millions die crossing roads annually around the world since it is not perceived as a dangerous activity and anyone and everyone is attempting to do so. In this post I will address all the major concerns about Everest and Sherpa and commercial guided clients, climbing ethics and many such things, which may help in understanding the complex game of climbing the highest mountain in the world. This is my personal view and I will neither quote nor site anyone else and whatever I would mention below are all from my firsthand experience that I gained after multiple Everest summits through different routes, employing different styles of climbing. In doing so I hope I would be able to offer you an unbiased, practical, no-nonsense take on Everest climbing through the traditional South Col route, with bits about the North Col route.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Snowboarding in Fideriser Heuberge

Just showing off before I started

Every day I ask myself: when was the last time I did something for the first time. Even though the answer is obvious (which is everyday), this is true on most days at a subliminal level, but on a physical level, when I asked myself the question, the answer was: almost to this date, last month. And what I did can only be a summary of my life’s motto ‘go with the flow’ since what I did could only happen if you let yourself go with the flow – snowboarding. It might come as a surprise to many that even after spending most of my life in, around and within snow, I had never done snowboarding in my life, not even strapped on to one ever. During my Swiss trip last month I learnt that a dear friend is also a champion pro-level snowboarder and hence ensued the adventure and I loved every moment of this sport even though I fell countless times; since only by falling do we learn to get up.