Saturday, February 27, 2010

Avalanche – Beginner’s Guide Simplified


I have seen perhaps thousands of avalanches, big and small, of all sorts all over the world in the span of my life so far. I have rescued buried people, or dug out dead bodies, while being buried myself on dozens of occasions. I teach people wilderness survival and a substantial part of my mountain travel workshop is dedicated to avalanches. I have written scores of articles on the phenomenon and must have contributed to at least fifty research projects on the issue. There’s little or nothing at all to add to what I have already said on the topic or to the vast data and information available in today’s public domain at your literal fingertip. Yet, the point is that avalanches are the biggest killers on the mountains and they kill not only novices but also seasoned hikers, climbers and skiers with a shocking regularity every year, every season. The reasons can be two: either we are not heeding to the information or warnings or we don’t think that it is a real danger, until it hits us or someone we know, and by that time it is perhaps too late to do anything about it. There can be a third possibility; what if the information and the warnings and the classes that are being conducted in the name of avalanches are too technical and jargon-filled or statistical for a normal person to understand or find it interesting! I Googled and discovered this to be the real case. This post is not meant for avalanche scientists, experienced climbers or skiers. For people like me it is often a matter of choice when we intentionally, despite knowing the odds and dangers choose to go into an avalanche danger zone. Thereafter it is a matter of luck or destiny. This post is for those who are not able to digest the data and information in a more lucid manner. This is for everyone who has ever felt that wish there was a simplified version of avalanche for me to follow blindly, cutting all the jargons out of the picture. If you are one such person then you have reached the right place.

Let me begin with a simple statistics; nearly over 70% of the mountain deaths are caused by avalanches. The majority of the victims are skiers, snowboarders, climbers and hikers, avalanche researchers, mountain road builders, soldiers in Himalaya, etc. Not necessarily only novices get caught, as the experienced of these categories go to places where the dangers are higher than normal in search of more degrees of difficulty and exploring new terrains and eventually pay the price with their lives. There are few instances too when absolute non-participants and innocent bystanders also get killed or seriously injured in an avalanche; in such cases it is mostly the local administration that is to be held responsible for not evacuating the normal people out of an avalanche danger zone in time. Two major examples of such instances are: Galtür village, Austria that was hit by a massive avalanche killing 31 people and in Montroc, France that killed 12 people.

The point I want to highlight is that though avalanches kill, they need not if we follow few basic precautions and rules. I know that all you experienced climbers and back-country off-piste skiers and daredevil snowboarders will smirk at this point telling me to get lost, but I am addressing only those who are new to this and wish to stay alive to see another beautiful sun rise above alpine meadows. Needless to say, I would smirk too. Well, enough of preamble now let’s hit the slopes and get buried true and proper.

A question: if you are dying of thirst would you want a scientist by your side who will first explain to you that two parts of Hydrogen and one part of Oxygen composes the fluid that you desperately need or you would prefer someone equally ignorant but with a full bottle of clean water to pour it down your throat. The answer is obvious and no, you don’t get a prize for getting it right.

An avalanche is a fast moving body of snow and ice that could contain other debris of rock, uprooted trees, flying cars and houses, human bodies, as well. As they move downhill they can accelerate up to 300 kmph and can gain volumes of over one hundred thousand cubic meters of snow weighing thousands of tons in mass. The fatal force of an avalanche lies in two things: its speed and its mass. The former can blow you away or apart and the latter can bury you and suffocate you to death. If you get buried in anything deeper than a meter of snow, your chances of survival drops exponentially after the first 15 minutes. After two hours you will be dead for sure. What saves most people buried in an avalanche is a quick SAR by others in the vicinity. It’s to such people that I owe my life.

For general purpose there are only two kinds of avalanches: powder and slab. The former is characterized by a bellow of powder, almost like a front of smoke screen, preceding the main avalanche mass that hits you well before the main body filling up your entire body, nose and any apertures with fine snow dust. While the latter has huge and heavy mass as it keeps gathering momentum and mass from the underlying and neighboring snow masses along the avalanche chute. This one is preceded by thunderous noise, usually a thunder crack from where it breaks off from the mountain. You cannot generally see this kind of avalanche right from where it begins since it takes few moments to gain momentum and mass for one to see from afar. Both such avalanches are fatal and dangerous. A powder avalanche is likely to uplift you while slab is likely to bury you under its brutal force. Both will eventually throw you on ground and suffocate you to death.

Prevention is the only full-proof method to stay safe from avalanches. The best is not to step out into a zone that is likely to get avalanche. Avalanche threats are often predicted and displayed by local administrative bodies, ski or local operators, weather broadcasts, or by local people en route. Read up carefully before proceeding. But if you are in Himalaya or Andes or many of the remote mountain areas then such information may not be available most of the times. To use your own judgment you need to be able to predict avalanches yourself, which is true even when reliable data is available, like in Europe or US.

All avalanches are caused by wind or snow accumulation or a combination of both and few other factors. Heavy precipitation on a steep slope would surely lead to avalanches. Killer avalanches can form on gradients as low as twenty degrees. Any ridge above you that has cornices have the potential of releasing avalanches, especially if there has been recent accumulations, strong winds and the slopes are steep underneath the cornices. If the possible avalanche slopes are full of jungles, trees, forests, big boulders, etc then the avalanche’s lethal force would be broken down and will not hit so hard as on an uninterrupted slope. Some avalanches are also caused due to sudden changes in temperature or heat accumulation within the ice that fills up the snow mass with slush and water deep within thereby setting it off. The underlying surface may be too unstable or hard for the top snow to coagulate and stick that may also lead to avalanches. Though on such surfaces the avalanches are more frequent and smaller in magnitude and do not really pose any threat. In general more avalanches occur during the autumn and winter seasons and during bad weathers when heavy snow fall and winds occur. Winter is also the time when more number of skiers and snow sports lovers are frolicking on the slopes and this often causes man made avalanches.

There are many preventive measures that administrative authorities can and must undertake to keep the slopes safe, like artificial triggering of avalanches, erecting avalanche guardrails and barriers, putting up nets, closing down ski slopes or for any other activities, keeping a good SAR team in place, adequate warnings to people through all channels of communication, etc. But here we would talk about what individuals can and must do.

Historical data is the best warning so look around your camp site or your intended track or the mountain you are going to scale or walk up to, see if you find debris of earlier avalanches, try to judge how old these avalanches are, what was its volume, see the chute, see how far and from what height did it come down from, see how far it traveled, try to gauge its potency from the damage it cause on the way (carrying of any rock or trees, the size of the ice blocks, etc), a good thing to notice would be the mass of additional ice or snow it has deposited over the normal ground level as compared to the areas that were not hit by the avalanche. All these will give you a general idea of how big the avalanche was, and which all part of the mountain is most susceptible to avalanche trigger. The easiest way to gauge the avalanche vintage is to simply dig about three inches into the debris, if you find fresh and white snow deeper in, then the avalanche is less than 48 hrs old and hence you are still in a potential avalanche danger zone and path. If the top surface of the avalanche debris still retains unevenness and is not smoothened out, then it is less than 24 hrs old. But if there has been continuous snow then you must be careful not to confuse this with the superficial snow. If all snow has already been brought down by the earlier avalanches then of course you can go up this slope as there is nothing left to drop any more. But still such a slope is best avoided.

In any potential avalanche zone it is far better to walk on the ridge keeping slightly into the windward side and away from the cornices on the ridge top. Do not cross the slope down below on the lee side at any cost. In a big team do space out the members and rope up. I would recommend a gap of 30 meters between two people when crossing a danger zone. And go slow but steady, no need to run across a slope or a face. Cross such places only in the early hours before sun hits the surface and definitely not after noon. If you must, then go further down hill rather than up hill and cut across at right angles to the slope to minimize exposure. Please carry individual probes and telescopic snow shovels, and some basic first aid kit. Communicate to another group or people from SAR teams about your intended route and action. Carry some kind of communication set and ensure that it works and you know all the communication drill by heart. Please remember when avalanche hits you; it will be mostly up to you to rescue your team members. Dependence on an outside help is best not catered for. It will never come in time when you are on any big mountain range like the Himalaya, Karakoram, Andes, Pamir, etc.

Avoid slopes where people are skiing or doing back country stunts. Don’t walk below people who might trigger avalanches. While walking, stay silent and vigilant to detect the earliest signs of an impending avalanche. It could be a cracking noise, a sudden stillness in the air, a sudden rise in heat, a sudden cloud formation on ground or a sudden scream from someone unseen. The moment you sense an avalanche you must look uphill and scan the slopes to see any kind of formation that wasn’t there before. A binocular can give you early warning. If you hear a huge crack, remember that by then the avalanche could be well on its way. You can’t outrun an avalanche and the best prevention could be to get out of its way if you can. This may not be possible in a widening valley or if the snow is too soft for you to move quickly. The ideal would be to split up and keep a sharp eye on one another. On no account must more than one or a pair of your team be caught in the same avalanche. So scatter around as fast and far as you can. Take shelter behind a tree or big boulder if there’s one. In a forest, climbing a tree is a good option. In an avalanche prone zone it is best to keep your emergency gear, comm. Set, food, tools etc on your person so that you can ditch your heavy backpacks when it hits you without losing your essentials. Put on helmets to prevent any head injury due to the flying ice blocks or debris.

While camping if you have even a bit of doubt then change your camping area. If unavoidable then spread out the tents, keeping the strongest members and the SAR gear furthest away from the threat side. If you have four tents then spreading out in a diamond shape is ideal keeping the line of the avalanche away from your primary axis. If you have only one tent, just get the hell out of there. If camping in a danger zone is unavoidable then you must find a location that will break and minimize the avalanche mass and volume by the time it reaches you. Like in and around crevasses or on a ridge between two avalanche faces. In matters of avalanches you can never be too cautious. So when in doubt err to the side of over caution.

Avalanches are a breathtaking and mind numbing sight as much as they are frightening, so while some of us (self included) may be tempted to take out our cameras to shoot the scene when it is roaring at us at hundreds of kmph, let’s see what we should ideally do when we absolutely can’t avoid it and must allow it to take us into its fold and do whatever it has to thereafter. I remember once after I had given a slide talk show at a place a young lad and a prospective climber stood up to ask me what should one do if caught in an avalanche. Without batting an eye I told him that in that case there was nothing that you can do, whatever has to be done will be done by the avalanche, at the best you may pray to all the gods you could remember at that time. The hall had erupted in laughter and the lad had slinked away silently. Probably on that day I ended up discouraging a young boy from going up in the hills but any of my climbing colleagues would know that I was simply being truthful.

Prevention is the only method known to man to escape an avalanche. Honestly how many of us really carry a personal locator beacon or transponder or aqualungs. I doubt if majority of the people regularly going to the mountains have ever used one in their life. On a serious climb we are so hard pressed for space and weight that we tend to sacrifice most of the stuff that is not absolutely essential to keep us alive, and even though I posses a PLB and an aqualung, I have carried them only once and that too for a trial run. These are more used by the SAR teams and schools or by the Indian, Chinese and Pakistani military people.

An avalanche will either carry you on the surface or bury you underneath. Even if you are lucky to experience the former case levitation for a while, eventually the gathering mass will overcome you and thrust you deep inside, from where escape all by yourself is highly unlikely. So what do you do when you know that it is going to hit you and there’s absolutely no way you can get out of its way?

If you are inside the tent and have been caught unawares, stay inside and pray that the tent poles and fabric will keep you safe. On four occasions this is what kept me alive. If you are on the move and the avalanche is rushing towards you then first and foremost, don’t panic (this is the most ludicrous thing one can say under any situation). Drop your backpack to make yourself lighter, scream at the top of your voice to let your team mates know what’s happening, tie a thin cloth or scarf around your nose and mouth and ears so that it prevents any ingress of powder snow into any of the orifices, turn your back towards the avalanche and raise your arms wide skyward as if seeking providential intervention, and wait. The moment the avalanche front hits you let yourself go and rise with the occasion as if on a wave like a surfer. Don’t panic, even if you are shitting bricks. Keep your head high and breathe normally, no opening of mouth or sudden huge intake of air. Don’t resist the down-flow of the avalanche, go with it, supporting yourself with your arms and back and try to gain as horizontal position as possible and stay atop the moving mass of ice. By now your head must be getting morbidly bashed up by ice and other unknown objects. Hope like hell you are still conscious. Soon enough you will either lose your sense or orientation or both and will sink in as the ice will pull you down within. As soon as you feel being pulled in, get your arms close to your body and palms around your face. Start throwing the snow from around your face to make some room around your nose and ears and eyes. Keep your body as horizontal as possible, this will increase your surface area and prevent deeper sinking, it’s like being afloat on water.

No avalanche lasts for more than few minutes. By that time either it has lost its momentum and mass or slope and has spread out harmlessly. If you get caught up in anything bigger and longer then this post will be of no help to you. Now once you stop moving, you must keep shifting and patting the quickly accumulating ice from around your face and jerk your body with short jerks as if in a fever. No sudden or big movements or desperate twists to free your legs or torso, which will only pin it down further. Only tiny jerks allowed to keep the immediate snow from becoming packed solid. I know by now you will be scared to death but if you are not dead then there’s no point in giving up. Keep patting the snow around your face and keep widening the area around your nose. At the same time feel the weight of the snow above. You have no idea which way surface lies and how far above since you could be lying face down or up. The only way is to feel the weight build up. It will always happen towards the direction of the surface. So judge this even as you are getting crushed. Don’t panic. Breathe really shallow and slow to make the air pocket in front of your face last the longest. Count something; think of your loved ones or your obituary anything that will keep you away from panic or giving up. I always think of my old friend ‘death’ and hold a convivial conversation with him.

The moment everything becomes silent, you know that the avalanche has stopped. Move after thirty counts. If you were with other people in the team then hope like hell at least some of them escaped and would come looking. If you were alone, this is the time to recall all your sins and repent. But don’t panic. If you have been able to keep your hands free and know which side is surface then you can slowly start digging upwards, but this is very difficult and nigh impossible. Even then do it slowly and gently as if wiping dew from a leave. If you rush or dig too fast the snow will solidify faster and you would exhaust the limited air earlier. Unless you are not buried too deep and someone was close at hand to dig you out, then you really don’t have a chance of survival from an avalanche burial. There’s actually little that can practically be done by the victim. In my own life, during all my deep burials I couldn’t do nearly 30% of the steps I have recommended here and mind you for me such things are more of an instinct, so I really don’t expect that you will be able to do any more so it actually boils down to your destiny. On one occasion while I lay in my dark dungeon breathing my last few mortal breaths and sharing a joke with death, the poke of a probe hit my nose and I grabbed it with all might. When I was extracted out, we found that all my other four rope mates were dead barely within a radius of few meters from me.

If not the victim what can you do? These are not meant for the professional SAR teams but for the team members those who are present on the spot, whose team members are the victims.

If you are not going to be hit by the avalanche then simply don’t panic and from the best vantage point keep a sharp lookout for your friend who is going under. This is one reason why wearing bright colored clothes is recommended. Don’t lose sight of your friend, specially the last spot where you saw him. Mark it mentally with a non-moving reference point and wait for the avalanche to stop. Remember once it stops you must move with maximum speed you can since every minute can make the difference between life and death. From the last point where you saw him draw an imaginary line leading towards the avalanche flow and start your probe around 10 m from the spot down slope. Keep a sharp look for any of his clothing, rucksack, etc sticking out of the snow and walk slowly to prevent a secondary slide happening. Use your probe judiciously and in a widening rectangle, from the start point. If you have PLBs then of course you must know how to use it, so there. If there is more than one in the rescue team then it is best to divide the area for searching. A probe can hit your friend and stop or it can be grabbed by him. In either case it is rather difficult to make out what’s happening below. So be slow and steady with each probe. If you suspect anything then do dig to some depth with your shovel. The digging must be done obliquely and slowly to avoid hitting the victim below. Most often in a real burial the rescuer ends up with a huge feeling of guilt as mostly the victim dies since he could not be reached in time but try to keep such thoughts out of your mind. Here time and methodology is of utmost importance and you are indeed doing a job that very few on earth has ever been called upon to perform.

With this I would conclude this post. I would request all of you to give the widest publicity possible of this through your network, even if you would never go to such places, someone else may. If there’s any clarification or doubts you have please send me a mail (through my profile) or leave a comment and I will certainly get back to you. Please remember that nearly all avalanche deaths are avoidable and let not ignorance be the cause for death. If one chooses to risk life after knowledge then so be it – and I of all the people around is one of them.

Friday, February 26, 2010

My Top Mountain Treks in the World


This was the toughest list to come up with since the choices were countless and I could include 100 treks of equal merit. But limitations are good since it then narrows down the field to something manageable. To be absolutely unbiased and fair to the entire world, I have therefore selected an odd number like 18 treks. This would represent three treks for each of the six continents, leaving Antarctica out of the field since even a walk of few hundred meters anywhere in this continent ranks among the best. Since I have a list of top ten treks in the Indian Himalaya, my real backyard, no treks from Indian Himalaya is included in this list, though there are a few that would definitely rank among the top treks in the world. Asia is a vast continent with magnificent mountain landscape and innumerable hikes through them and to offer a wider selection I have included only one trek from the Himalaya (which is most unfair). Even I had a hard time reconciling to this self-imposed restriction. But my aim here is to offer a wider spatial choice to my readers. As always my primary reason to like a trail would be its beauty and degree of difficulty. The trail names are either the most popularly accepted ones or on a pass or glacier or the region. The criterions considered for this list are as under:

1. The trails must be through some mountainscape (not only through forests or canyons, etc).

2. The trails should relatively be less popular, known, or remote.

3. I should have personally done the route.

4. Only three treks per continent. This is highly unfair to both Asia and South America but I had to have a limitation somewhere else most of my treks would come from these two continents.

5. Must be difficult and dangerous to some degrees and not a purely tourist trail.

6. All foot and walking treks only. No jeep or camel or horseback trails have been considered.

7. Only multiday treks have been included.

As always this list is by no means exhaustive or even close to that. My exposure to the world is highly limited and I guess prejudiced. So don’t fret if your favorite trail is not there. Please add it in the comment section to this post with reason why do you rank it among your favorite. My apologies to all the nations from the six continents that have amazing mountainscapes and trails. Depending on the response I might come up with list no 2. Now to begin our world tour!

Australasia & New Zealand

a) Westland National Park Glacier Trek, New Zealand. New Zealand is a land of beauty for any mountain and nature lover. It has more than 50 treks all over the country with perhaps a dozen of them regularly being featured among the world’s top hikes. Considering the ratio between the country size, population and number of hiking trails, NZ is certainly one of the most densely trekking trail countries in the world and each one of them is of outstanding beauty. Though the highest peak of Mt Cook doesn’t reach the 4000 m mark, NZ has glaciers, ice caps and breathtaking mountainscapes. The Westland National Park trail is not as popular or well known as many others for obvious reasons. It requires a considerable glacier and ice walking experience, excellent physical conditions and around 7 – 8 days to do it in its totality. You can traverse three of the major glaciers on this trip including Franz Joseph, Fox and Tasman and climb at least one of the tallest peaks in the continent. But for the low altitudes, for most part of this trail you could believe that you are either in the Himalaya or the Andes.

b) Port Davey Track, Tasmania. Australia is a rugged continent with nearly 80% of its land being uninhabited. This makes it a Mecca for nature lovers and sun worshippers. It has mountain ranges too, though they are too tiny in altitude and hence Australia has never been among my favorite destinations. I have climbed a bit in the Blue Mountains and they are a thrilling playground for any big wall and trad climber. Of the few trails I have done in Australia, the Port Davey Track in the southern part of Tasmania has remained my favorite. It is really remote and pristine and takes you through a diverse landscape that has mountains, rivers, rainforests and exotic flora and fauna. This track may take 5 – 6 days to complete depending on weather, river levels and one main harbor crossing at Bathurst, if you don’t miss the boat. Preferred time is during the winters.

c) Kokoda Trail, PNG. This is the most famous and popular trail in Papua New Guinea and it does cross the 2000 m mark at a point. It is mostly through rainforest and not really my kind of landscape but I have included it for the sake of diversity, else I would have nominated one of the several other favorites of mine from NZ. Kokoda trail has historic importance being the sight for one of the bloodiest battles of WW II between the Japanese and Australian forces. It is usually done in less than a week and should be aimed only by those who like bushwalking. It links the southern and northern coast of PNG.

As is evinced from above, I couldn’t find a single trail from the Australian mainland to include in the above.

What got left out: All the trails in New Zealand that could not be included and the South Coast Track in Tasmania.

America North

a) John Muir Trail, USA. Those of you who have done this trail in its entirety (even those that are not Americans) would certainly agree with me that this is perhaps the most complete hiking trail in America. It simply has everything and is a very well marked trail at that. Since for me it was once in a lifetime chance, I packed in several big wall climbs both in Yosemite and along the trail as well the prize summit of Mt Whitney at the end, while joining people from one section of the walk to another. For those with lesser time periods you can do any section and be struck with its splendor. US has amazing walking trails all over the vast country and this is a trail that takes you to some of its most beatific spots. One can also learn from the Americans how to preserve and maintain a trail such as this. The trail crosses six high passes and goes through three major national parks.

b) Auyuittuq National Park, Canada. Though I have visited the Baffin Islands in Arctic Canada only twice it is a place that haunts me in my dreams. Mt Thor in the Auyuittuq National Park remains among my best climbs. The park is full of steep walls and remnants from the last ice age. One can easily get lost in its awe-inspiring mountains and mammoth ice caps. Reaching this remote park is difficult and expensive so do pack in maximum when you plan to visit. The trail through the park takes usually a week and should be done only by experienced hikers. Though the summer months from July – September are the ideal period, I would recommend a bit early in April or May to do more of snow traverse and ski across frozen creeks.

c) Sunshine to Mt Assiniboine trail. Despite its immense popularity, I had to include this trail since it is among the prettiest trails in the world. For a mountaineer like me a chance to climb the Canadian Matterhorn of Mt Assiniboine was an additional temptation. Though the trail can be done comfortably in three days, I would recommend around 7 days to explore all the side valleys and glaciers in the region and add three more days if you wish to climb Mt Assiniboine, which by no standards or route is an easy ascent. Being in Canada it is an expensive place to be, so it is better to be self-sufficient. Despite the seasonal rush and people around, I would recommend this trail to anyone visiting the Canadian Rockies since nothing and absolutely nothing can diminish the exquisite beauty of this trail – simply out of the world.

What got left out: All the major trails of USA & Mexico as most of them are actually canyon trails or along the coast. Some of the best treks in Alaska and Yukon Territory of Canada, the Appalachian Trail, several other trails in Baffin Island, etc had to be sacrificed.

America South

As you all know by now that this happens to be my single most favorite continent on earth and I can easily name most of my top ten treks in the world from the Andes and Patagonia. But following my self-imposed restriction I would stick to three.

a) Huayhuash Circuit, Peru. Jostling with two others, this would be my personal best trek in the world. It takes around 10 days to complete the circuit and it is meant only for serious and experienced hikers who have had earlier high altitude exposure. The entire trail is far above the tree line and gives close views of some of the most dangerous and difficult mountain faces on Earth. The wild Andean landscape and wild life is perhaps best experienced in this trail. The highest point on the trail at Punta Coyoc Pass (18,012 ft) is a difficult proposition for most. Death or getting severely hypothermic are possibilities in this hike and there are bandits too. But then, the best alpine hike in the world must have its obstacles.

b) Torres Del Paine, Chile. Many hard core hikers call this as the best trek in the world and I am willing to agree. The 102 km trail takes you through such amazing landscape that if you could or would do only one hike in your life time I would recommend you the Paine route. The trail takes you along glaciated lakes, sheer rock and ice towers, tumbling glaciers and grass lands without any altitude problems. You can do it at leisure and is fairly well marked. It is a relatively popular trail though most people do only half the circuit. The sunsets and rises through the Patagonia is an unforgettable experience. If you can manage it, then you must do this trail in your life time at least once. If you stick to the path then it is not a demanding trail and can be done by almost any one in normal health. The only serious problem in this trail is the weather that can completely blow one out. A natural conclusion to this trail would be to have Argentinean visa as well and continue to Fitz Roy circuit that is equally breathtaking and exit at Calafate.

c) Illampu Circuit, Bolivia. This is a serious high altitude alpine trail through the finest sections of the Bolivian Andes and is often rated among the top twenty alpine hikes in the world. You can expect snow on any month on this route. The highest point is around 15,500 ft hence altitude is a serious threat. Glaciers, sheer ice faces, frozen lakes and abundance of wild life are some of the attractions. This circuit can be done with pack animals hence one doesn’t have to carry heavy back packs.

What got left out: Every other trek from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. The journey to Angel Falls in Venezuela is among my favorites but could not be included for its primarily a boat trip followed by a short hike.

Africa

The highest trekking route in the world is in Africa, which is among the most popular in the world as well since a climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro is indeed nothing but a trek. In our present list we will keep it out.

a) Rwenzori Mountain Central Circuit, Uganda. The Rwenzori Mountain range in the Great Rift Valley between Uganda and The Democratic Republic of Congo is often called the moonscape on Earth. Nowhere can it be better experienced than on a hike along the Central Circuit that takes around 10 days and can include an ascent to the highest summit in the range of Mt Margherita (5109 m). The trek would be wet with occasional showers and through exotic jungles and the final climb to the summit would be tough for most, but all said and done it is an out of the world experience. More than anything else, for me this trail invoked a sense of awe for the simple reason that very few before me had ever stepped where I was walking.

b) Drakensberg Grand Traverse, South Africa. A 12 – 14 day long trail that is majestic and exhausting as it is calming and breathtaking. It needs good physical fitness though no technical expertise. The chances of losing trail are high. The trail mostly remains at an average altitude of 10,000 ft and many classic trad climbs can be included into the itinerary. A close view of the Tugela Falls, which is the world’s second highest waterfall, can be combined into the route. I had done this route with a bunch of buddies from the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) and was in no hurry to complete the trail, while bagging peak after peak in sheer frenzy.

c) Atlas Mountain Circuit, Morocco. This trail doesn’t really have a specific name and this is the closest I could come up with. A moderately challenging trek that takes around 5 – 6 days depending on your option to include climbing Mt Jebel Toubkal (4167 m) the highest peak of North Africa. This trek is ideal for winter when a climb of Jebel Toubkal using the WSW ridge route can be quite challenging. The views are as grand as in the Alps while costs are less than one tenth. Morocco has many rock options for serious climbers and is today considered one of the most popular destinations for rock climbing.

What got left out: Going by our criterion, not much. All the routes in and around Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mt Kenya circuit in Kenya, the Simian Range traverse in Ethiopia and perhaps the Mandara Mountains of Cameroon.

Asia

Given the immensity of options, I had to cut down my choices to only one trek each from the entire Himalayan & Karakoram Range, exclusive of Indian Himalaya (which I know is nothing short of blasphemy), Tien Shan Range & Pamirs and Altai Range. So please forgive my abomination for I know I have sinned and heavily at that.

a) Sherpani Col Route, Nepal Himalaya. When I had the choice of the entire Himalaya and Karakoram that contains the world’s second and third largest glaciers and all the 14 highest peaks why would I pick up a route that is seldom done and is among the least known outside the serious climber’s world? The answer is obvious since it lets you cross arguably the highest mountain passes in the world. The route normally takes more than 25 days and is actually an expedition and it needs seriously fit and technically competent ice climbers to complete. When I had done this route over two decades ago, no one had even heard of it outside of a very small group of Everest climbers. Today this circuit is named as Ice Col Route and is commercially offered by quite a few outfitters, though I am not sure how many teams do this route each year in its entirety. It’s basically a trek through the Arun Valley of Nepal that gives kissing distance views of Mt Everest, Mt Lhotse and Makalu. The route crosses three passes of staggering heights: Sherpani Col (6145 m), West Col (6130 m) and Amphu Lapcha La pass (5855 m) on three consecutive days. Amphu Lapcha La is the most technical of the three and requires serious ice climbing skills to negotiate.

b) Lake Trek, Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan. I am not sure if this trek has a name even today or if it is any standard trail. I had done this trail with an excellent Kyrgyz guide by the name of Tanya. We had crossed six high and snow bound passes that took us to four lakes including Lake Issyk-Kul, Karakol, Alakol and another the name of which I can’t recall now. We had interspaced the trek with ascents of two summits above 6500 m, both which I was told were first ascents. We did it in March when the snow was really deep and heavy. I have climbed and trekked quite extensively all through the Central Asian Mountains including in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Xinxiang Province of China across the Pamir, Tien Shan and Kunlun but rarely have I found one that could surpass the beauty of the trek that my guide Tanya had shown.

c) Altai Trek, Mongolia / Russia (Siberia). Altai Mountain Range run through Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia and China and is the longest mountain range in Central Asia. The entire range is remote and mind-blowing. Among the numerous treks that one can do in this range, I have done only two and I couldn’t select one over the other hence have mentioned both. The one in Mongolia starts from Ölgii in western Mongolia and the entire circuit takes around a fortnight of intense walking. Though I believe today a part of this trail is jeepable. Besides the magnificent mountains, glaciers and lakes the most memorable part of this trail for me was befriending the Kazakh people and traveling with them through their homeland. The Altai trek in Russia traverses to the highest peak in Siberia of Mt Belukha (4506 m). Anyone with some amount of high altitude and ice walking experience can make a quick dash to the summit of Mt Belukha within the trek, like I did. This trail too takes you along pristine lakes, high passes and glaciers. Both the treks are remote and of medium grade in terms of difficulties. There could be few outfitters today offering these two treks for a price.

What got left out: Plenty and all of them equally worthy of inclusion. There are at least 50 treks from Nepal (like around Annapurna, French Col, Mustang, etc), Bhutan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Mongolia, Japan, Kamchatka Plateau, Karakoram, etc that had to be excluded. Not to mention the ones in West Karakoram and Hindu Kush, the areas where I have not been to.

Europe

The birthplace of alpinism running through the immense ranges of Alps, Dolomites, Pyrenees, Scandinavia, Scotland, etc where I learned my basic ice craft is not an easy place to encompass with only three trails, in fact it is impossible. But then attempt must be made, so here goes:

a) Jungfrau Tour, Switzerland. Though every guide book ranks the Walker’s Haute Route from Chamonix (France) to Zermatt (Switzerland) as Europe’s best trek, my personal favorite is the Jungfrau tour that is done by very few in its entirety. One reason for it being that it gives you a ring side view of the dreaded north face of Eiger. This is a high alpine and glacier trek route and must be done only by experienced hikers. There are plenty of options and detours that can be included to make it an extraordinary trekking experience, not to mention ascents of few 4000 m high summits.

b) Cuillin Ridge, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK. If I did not include at least one trek from Scotland then my Scottish friends would surely kill me so here it is. The other reason being that my solo three day long winter traverse of the complete Cuillin Ridge is among the most insane enterprise of my entire life and if I live to tell the tale then it is more due to the prayers of my friends than my own survival abilities in one of the most hazardous and rugged terrains found anywhere in Europe. This ridge can be done in a long single one day push by experienced munro baggers. The trail encompasses everything that Scotland and the British mountains have to offer and even more. The winter conditions are apocalyptic and one has to use complete climbing gear and pro placements to get by. Not recommended for faint-hearted or those without adequate technical knowledge and experience. Route finding is harder than in the middle of Africa.

c) Brenta to Molveno, Dolomites, Italy. Well, my brother lives in Italy, one of my climbing heroes, Walter Bonatti practiced his skills in these mountains and I have done several routes in the Dolomites so it had to score over the Pyrenees. This is a trail that will tempt the hiker every step to leave the trail and climb the accompanying mountain massifs. Can be done in comfortable three days but I would recommend those keen on bagging some big walls and ice faces to set aside a week at least for there is plenty to keep you busy and dizzy in that order. Molveno ranks among the top ten prettiest mountain villages that I have seen in the world and I have seen some. If I could find an Italian woman willing to marry me, I would and settle down in Molveno for sure.

What got left out: My alma mater of Chamonix, Mt Blanc Massif, Austria, other parts of Swiss Alps, Italian Alps, the Pyrenees trails, all of Scandinavia, Iceland, the trails of Svalbard and those in Wales and Lakes. All these are unpardonable but I had my limits.

As you will see that the omissions by far exceed the inclusions and do not do any honorable justice to either. Therefore I might come up with my top ten hikes for each continent at a later point in time, depending on reader’s requests and reactions to this post. Till then you enjoy your treks and I will try to find new ones that I am yet to embark upon. Happy trekking!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's Not Life


There’s no smile
Without tear
No courage
Without fear

There’s no darkness
Without light
No mirth
Without plight

There’s no now
Without a was
No would be
Without a pause

There’s no god
Without belief
No religion
Without relief

There’s no love
Without pain
No thoughts
Without brain

There’s no rose
Without thorn
No morsel
Without its corn

There’s no mountain
Without snow
No dark nights
Without its glow

There’s no advance
Without retreat
No victory
Without defeat

There’s no death
Without life
No peace
Without strife

There’s no one strong
Without being weak
No one’s bold
Without being meek

There’s no you
There’s no me
It’s not life
If it’s not we

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Attempt

Attempt must be made even when failure is certain, for nothing in this world can be predicted with absolute certainty; except perhaps the will and struggle to stay alive - since this will certainly conclude in a failure, if staying alive was what you really were attempting. So don't struggle or attempt to stay alive, you will fail. Rather be alive and you will never fail.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lost in Big Cities – Part 1


This is the first part in my Big City Bashing series with all pun intended. I love getting lost all the time and nowhere do I do it so naturally as in a big mega city. Part 1 reflects my impression of four such cities.

I absolutely loathe, detest and hate big cities. There; I have said it now, and all you metro and mega polis lovers can sue me for libel and ask all the big city mayors to ban me entry to their respective concrete jungles. Go ahead; it will suit me to no end. I would avoid them myself if it were humanly possible to circumvent them and head for the places that every country has besides the big cities. Yet, as it is inevitable I had to cross, re-cross, stay and even hibernate at many such cities across the world for reasons beyond my control and wish. But then what or which city qualifies to be called a big city? What are the characteristics of a big city? Which are the top 20 (I can’t cover more than this number in a post for sure, but if you would want me to cover more than I guess a book will need to be written) big cities in the world? What exactly was I doing there and did I really find anything worth deliberating upon while there? Let’s find out the answers. A caution; if you are one of those die-hard big city fans then please don’t read further. This post is my personally irreverent look at the big cities in the global scale, very personal, very irreverent and very amusing, though none of the city tourism brochures would feature any of the following observations ever.

All big cities at any location on either side of Equator or Suez share the common characteristics of concrete and glass paneled buildings, museums, amusement parks, serpentine roads, squares, cars and other motorized means of transport, shopping malls, multiplexes, flyovers, underground rail system, confusion, chaos, a river or sea or waterfront, and maddeningly rushing people who look more zombie than the ones found in C grade vampire movies. Plenty of avenues for amusement and excitement yet lot of sadness and boredom. They are built and constructed, fragmented and cemented for the people, by the people and of the people, yet they try to kill those very people; in particular those who actually toiled under the sun and rain to build it. Let’s not go down that lane as of now, I am not into evangelical blasphemies here.

Let’s get some unbiased views about such cities. None of the neutral sources such as the Oxford or Webster gave me any satisfactory definition to big or metropolitan city. This is strange, nearly one third of the world’s population lives in one; is born and dies here, yet we don’t know what it really is. So Google comes to rescue. Quest for ‘big city’ produces a profusion of absolute nonsense that even I cannot digest. ‘Metropolitan city’ offers some logical luring. A city with adequate income (local GDP) and population; quantifying this took several more of my precious minutes, which I sacrificed nevertheless… I was onto something after all. The top three parameters that emerged out of the entire rigmarole that defines a metropolis are: area, population and sum total of the city’s income. Based on that, absolutely unopposed in every list and in a class by itself stands Tokyo. No one can even dare to equal this land of mobile masses. The next nineteen included such obvious ones as New York, Beijing, London, etc. So when I finalized my 20 cities for metro-bashing I decided to bind myself to two conditions: only a city that I have visited more than once and have spent over 72 hrs within its metropolitan boundaries and know its flavor well enough to rival that of any so called self-bragging city surfers and that only one city per country would be included. In all these cities live some of my best and dearest friends, each a gem of human specimen and none of my observations are even subconsciously aimed at any of them. So here goes (in no particular order or preference):

Paris: My first big city outside of India happened to be the city of Eiffel Tower, Seine, Arc de Triumph, nubile nymphets, croissant, wine, chocolates and cafes. I was barely 15 then and till date though I must have gallivanted across its famous rues and museums on dozen occasions I have not changed my view. It is a boring and boorish city. Spring or autumn or any season in Paris is drab. Lido and its leg throwing femmes are ridiculous if not necessarily fatal. When Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman cooed ‘We will always have Paris’, in Casablanca they must have done so at the point of a loaded gun. No wonder they both look so constipated and exhausted in this classic scene. Ok the Arc is a copy of our India Gate, Champ Elysees is any uptown flea market, Louvre is a geometric puzzle besides being the world’s largest repository of ocular nonsense, Seine is stinking, the cafes are crowded with dreamers who assemble just to mumble ‘ooh la la’. Parisian fashion is at best a parody, non-stop nevertheless. All the Gare’s (rail stations) put together cannot get you to where you wish to be. Parisians have a permanent smirk plastered across their ashen faces and they often tumble and fall since their necks are always stuck up so high into the sky. I twice missed my outgoing flights from Charles de Gaul Airport since they could not find me in the departure lounge. As a country I love France, a country that has Mt Blanc, Chamonix, Grande Jorasses and such beautiful alpine meadows can never be bad but it is the choice in its capital where the French erred severely. Parisian men make crudest of passionate overtures while the women open their hearts only to the ones with heaviest purses. You can see and admire them but dare you talk to one unless your net asset worth is in the neighborhood of million Euros. For the ‘oh so surreal’ privilege of a room with a view atop Eifel, you would need to divorce yourself from handful of Euros and the view is only an endless blanket of polluted smog in all directions. The chocolates, chardonnays, and Bordeaux are all touristy gimmicks. They are too sweet or bitter, too docile or vigorous… never quite the way they are elsewhere. Don’t I like anything at all about this ultimate romantic getaway (don’t tell the Venetians) of the world; of course I do. The poverty, homeless on the streets, racist graffiti in the tube, indifferent pedestrians, Indian joints by Pakistanis claiming to come from the holiest Hindu city of Haridwar, and the roadside tulips that are abloom almost all year round that no one seems to see.

New York: Let me give you an analogy. Get the largest mixer you can imagine, fill it up to bursting point with people even allowing few flailing limbs to flounder in and around the top lid, throw in (if you can manage) some patches of green and water and cars and trains and every possible modes of public transport, not to forget the skyscrapers and then switch the abominable machine on and then just run for your dear life. You can run and run for your life for all eternity yet the vision of this monolithic city will haunt you in your dreams. It is the largest lunacy ever concocted by modern man. NY is also the global mixer. It has everyone, everything, and I am being moderate here in my views. And you realize this even before you land at JFK or Newark. The very way all your co-passengers and the airhostesses will start bouncing and balancing you will know that you are either going to crash or going straight to heaven, which is not really the one and the same thing in Big Apple. The city is non-stop blasphemy and senseless cacophony. A New Yorker loves his or her accent, the Starbuck, tubes, malls, boulevards, Time Square, Broadway, Central Park, mobile hotdogs, gays and kaleidoscope of colors. It is easy to get lost here and find a part of yourself you did not know existed. A great place to be for dreamers and society derelicts since it is a great place for absolutely anyone. I love its open embrace to encompass all that lands up on its dirty shores. I love the muggers, the black knife-wielders, the high heeled harlots, the absolute filth and scum of earth. In the winters, steams rise out of manholes and people break their bones on frosted footpaths. New York is less American than global. There are parochial ghettos from Libya to Lima that is equally authentic in all aspects as the original. Just don’t ask any New Yorker the time. He doesn’t know and if he knows then he won’t tell. The best way to see NY is to buy a day long pass for public transport and museums and all its tall buildings and then rush like mad while keeping your mouth and mind absolutely shut to any outside influence. The boulevard beneath Brooklyn Bridge that is so often romanticized in our Bollywood movies (and for obvious reasons so less in Hollywood, except in ‘Kate & Leopold’) is so shady and shitty that even a homeless doesn’t perch himself there.

London: Think of London and Big Ben is perhaps the first image that comes to your mind, in depicting a city that is so steeped in anarchy. These days I believe London Eye, another abomination by the wafting waters of Thames, comes more often. This ancient and so regarded regal city is a hallmark in organized confusion. But for Thames and its innumerable (ludicrously laminated) bridges no Londoner would ever know in which part of the city he is in. The parks are immense and imminent from anywhere and so are the dry ponds and well fed chipmunks and wading bipeds. Buckingham Palace sits like a plum on a plump pudding with heavily helmeted royal guards, about whom it is said that they never laugh. I will tell you the secret; they have been trained only to smile from their eyes and guffaw through their behind. The headgear is pulled so down you never see their eyes (god only knows how they see anything) and if you hear something around their behind your good upbringing generally prevents you from drawing any covert or overt attention to the same. The flea-markets are full of fleas and fleecing scoundrels. Oxford and Soho cater more to window shopping and drool dropping extravaganza. London Tube is its saving grace. It is the only reliable mechanism in the entire city, but dare you ask any commuters for anything, even if you explode right amidst the thronging crowd at Kings Cross I don’t think anyone will bat an eyelid or miss their 6.12 pm local. The tube hoardings are interesting though. It is rumored that the city municipality has an annual budget of a million pound to make these hoardings lucid, legitimate and educative; but who the hell cares! The lions at Trafalgar Square don’t scare even the gentle birds who regularly drop their rocks around and the Nelson’s Tower is often symbolized for something much more profane (by the Londoners themselves). What I love the most about this mega city are the museums and art galleries open for free to anyone who can walk. Such masterpieces anywhere else in the world would have barred the gates to most. London is a city that is holding on with grunts to its heritage, culture and ethos with the modern times and doing a jolly good work of it. While in London I love to walk along the pier in Greenwich and rifle through the super-bargain eponymous bookshop and trip along the chipmunks in Hydes Park. Madame Tussaud’s is so blatantly stupid and as the highest value tickets to any of London’s sights, it is a major revenue earner for the Mayor. Tower Bridge is best viewed from afar. Westminster Abbey now gets more visitors post mention in Dan Brown’s book. London cabs and London Bobbies are real darlings and they are the only two species of bipeds who know anything that is there to know. I really have nothing against a city that has the capacity to laugh at its own follies. I love the Brits and Londoners alike though these are two entirely different classes of people.

Tokyo: The back bending city of rushing but polite people is a place where everyone smiles without laughing and gestures without meaning to. Tokyo has towering towers to dwarf the short people even more. Despite having such a proud and pompous past, Tokyo is supremely modern in its architectural grandeur. People and umbrellas can be found everywhere. Tokyoites are simple, honest, too hard working and fun to know, only if they have the time to stop and say ‘hello’. Sushi and tempura bars are everywhere so are sumo and swashbuckling samurai, the modern however it tries to subdue the traditional, is not going to succeed. The one dollar Chinese shops are now at every busy corner, where even a self-respecting Jap goes for his sustenance. The gardens of this great city are a pleasure to view and saunter into. They are perhaps the only serene spots of this frenzied city. The traditional banging watermill, an ancient device to drive away marauding pigs, keeps a steady beat in every such garden. The famous Japanese tea-ceremony or ritual is among the top two most boring events I have ever participated in, all because I simply couldn’t refuse my over-polite and humble hostess. By the time the cup came my way I had all but slept off. Though equally busy and much more populated Tokyo is much less raucous than most other big cities since there is no collective frenzy here, no road side revelers, no punk masses, no gunning gents and no mass hysteria about anything at all. People shuffle about quietly, hurriedly, unconcerned in a diminutive way that bellies the fact that this tiny nation is an economic giant. Even the gut-bursting trains make no noise. It can quietly creep up and quash you under its wheels if you are not watching. Tokyoites, totally love spaces, tiny stamp sized spaces. No wonder bunk hotels are a hit here. Jap folks are super-ambitious and duper-driven to excel but they are clever enough to accept what they have and nowhere else is it more evident than Tokyo. And entire nation of fish, sea weeds, and rice can’t be off the mark from anything. The cherry blossoms can gladden even the severest of heartbroken, and that is where Tokyo has a real winner. And of course for the cabs and for Ginza!

P.S. In the accompanying picture I am flanked by two Japanese climbing legends, Hiroshi Sakai to my right and Oshio Ogata to my left

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rohini Rau the Sailing Star




If you thought intense sport and glamour doesn’t go together – think again! If you thought Indian woman and the gritty world of international sailing can’t meet – think again. If you thought beauty and brains don’t merge – think again. For Rohini Rau defies all preconceived notions.

A self confessed ‘smiling’ expert, standing tall even without heels the only moment she is not dazzling the world with her smile and energy is when Rohini is focusing hard on the next marker buoy as she zips across the world riding the waves of the oceans with the finesse of a ballerina and the strength of a lioness.

Meet the new poster girl of Indian Sports Rohini Rau from Chennai whose accomplishments and diverse talents can set anyone thinking if it’s really possible to put in so much in one’s life. A 3rd year MBBS student, she has won medals in swimming and athletics and is an adept in disciplines like handball, kho-kho, Yoga and snow-boarding. Rohini is also a seasoned actor and danseuses (both western and Indian forms) and has been playing the piano and violin from her early days.

She started competitive sailing at 11 and after 12 years with two Asian Gold medals and 10 gold medals and five silvers in the nationals Rohini is the top woman sailor India has ever produced in its history. She has represented India in five major world championships. Rohini is the first Indian woman to win an international medal in an Olympic class Laser Radial - Bronze at Izola Spring Cup, Slovenia Grade 3 event. With her present ISAF ranking of 152, Rohini is India’s first woman Olympic hope in sailing.

A youth icon and role model to millions of her fans, Rohini has single handedly pushed the boundaries of woman sports to heights never thought possible before. Here’s a freewheeling tête-à-tête with Rohini Rau from Australia where she is currently training with some of the best coaches in the world and doing what she does best – smiling and sailing, in that order.

1. In a top level competition what is going on in your mind, heart as you prepare your rig; just before you hit water? Is it the same each time?

A1. A sailing regatta comprises of a series of 10 -12 races. Each race is an hour each and we sail up to three races a day. Every sailor sails all the races and is scored based on the order they cross the finish line (a low point scoring system) so the person with the least number or points wins. So every race is important, although you are allowed to drop your worst score. I find that on the first day of racing I am very restless, and am usually of the first people dressed and in the water. It is a mind game, so I am working on being a little more relaxed and being cool around the boat park.

2. You are a multi-talented person; trained pianist, dancer, choreographer and now doctor in making, while you have so much talent in such diverse fields how did sailing happen? Did you always know that one day you would be a sailor?

A2. I was thrown into sailing after taking part in a summer camp at the age of 9. I thought sailing was just a hobby, I didn’t know that there were national championships until I was asked to take part in one in Mumbai. I pick up things very fast and I guess I had a knack for sailing as it is an adventure sport and I was a tomboy growing up. It was a perfect blend of mind and body. You need to be smart to sail as you have to understand the wind, water and apply tactical knowledge as well. It is not your average straight line race. So I love the challenge… a game of chess with a lot of physical activity. Sailing was my weekend activity until my 10th standard, where I realized that I did not have time to do everything. That’s when I chose sailing… and I continue to balance it out with my studies.

3. Every time you lose a race or don’t perform up to your expectations or maximum what do you tell yourself? In your regular life you are a fun loving, cheerful college girl, which is again full of ups and downs. How do handle failures and crisis?

A3. I believe in the saying that ‘Everything happens for a reason and usually it is for the best. But sometimes Shit Happens ‘. There were a lot of hurdles, but I think they have made me stronger and steered me in the path that I follow now. I find that I perform the best when I am not under pressure. I also believe in positive thinking, ‘The race is not over until you cross the finish line’.

4. You have been often called the Indian Youth Icon. Tell us five distinct advantages of being a girl youth icon.

A4. 1) I think it proves to India that you can pursue a sport and do a professional degree
2) If you believe in yourself anything is possible
3) Encourage more boys and girls to take up this wonderful sport of sailing
4) That there are sports apart from cricket that need India’s support
5) The pride of every country is how they fare at the Olympics.

5. Your top five movies and books (with one line reason for each).

A5. Right now ‘ Avatar’ is my favourite movie. I think James Cameron is a genius.
Loved 3 idiots, also the book by Chetan Bhagat ‘5 point someone’
Da Vinci Code – Book and the movie. I love mysteries and the way they get solved.
The movie – ‘Perfume’ was very interesting.
Anastasia - the movie, Well I am a Disney fan :D
Books – ‘the Secret’ by Rhonda Bryne is a very positive book.
Lance Armstrong’s biographies are a huge inspiration.
I loved the Harry Potter and Twilight series.

6. If you could transform yourself into another individual (from any era, any gender) just for a day, who would it be and why? Top three things you would wish to achieve in that single day.

A6. I guess, Gandhiji or someone with as much power…
After fighting for independence I would have loved to support and encourage more people to participate in sport, especially the women. Fight against sex trafficking and corruption

7. Your top three dreams you wish to realize (besides World No 1 ranking and Olympic Gold).

A7. 1) To finish my MBBS course, become a sports doctor and start an exclusive Health Center for Sportspeople in India
2) Become the first Indian woman sailing at the Olympics
3) Find the sponsors to help me get there and realize my dream. :D

8. Your most embarrassing moment (or one of them if there is more than one). What happened?

A8. I think I was in 4th grade and we went to a water theme park for a school excursion. After swimming, we went to change and I couldn’t find my pinafore… luckily for me I had a pair of tights! It was still embarrassing to walk around in my shirt and tights. I later found that another girl had taken mine because she had lost hers.

9. Who is your idol and inspiration for life in general and why?

A9. My brother Ajay Rau – he was an obese kid growing up and had to work 10 times harder than me to achieve anything. Be it in studies or sport. I saw him lose 30 kilos, when he finally deiced to take up sailing seriously. He didn’t diet… he just worked out really hard under Ramji Srinivas. When it came to sailing, he would go practice on his own. It’s something I really admire, his determination and motivation. He pushes me to do better.

10. In real life you come across as a very down to earth and humble person. Despite all laurels and adulation how do you keep yourself grounded?

A10. I think my family plays a very important role in keeping everything in perspective. I grew up to believe that I was not any greater than anyone else around me, as I was sure that there was at least one thing he or she might be better at than me.

11. Despite all odds that you have faced and continue to face how do you keep yourself so motivated and charged up?

A11. It is hard; I am a very people person so it gets difficult when I have to motivate myself to do things alone. But I find ways to push myself. And I think when people put me down or make it hard for me, that is motivation enough to help me prove them wrong.

12. Do you ever consciously think of failure? If so, what do you exactly think? Do you take failures as a friend or a foe?

A12. I don’t think of failures, I would not like to attract that sort of thing. By just thinking of it, you have already failed. I like to remain positive. I don’t look at them as failures, like I said it happens for a reason and something better will come out of it

13. Reveal one secret of Rohini Rau that no one else in the world knows.

A13. I acted in an Italian science fiction film called ‘Gills’ at the age of 12, I also sang playback for a Tamil film ‘Three Roses’ – the title track

14. Describe briefly a typical day in your life away from competition and training.

A14. Wake up at 5 30 am, to catch a 6 am train to Chengalpet Govt. Medical College that is an hour and a half away. Come back home at 5 pm, rush to the gym to work out for an hour and a half, back home at 8pm, dinner and sleep 

15. What do you do; where do you go when you feel like taking a break from the world?

A15. I love dancing! So it is either going dancing with friends or stay at home and spend time with myself or close friends. I recently went to Goa for 5 days… it was definitely a break from the world. I came back fully refreshed.

16. Tell us about one of your breathtaking moments in life.

A16. It would have to be this New Year’s Eve, standing at the newly redone Marina beach in Chennai with the moon in the middle of the sky with its silvery reflection in the water. With the sound of the waves and wind, it was certainly breath taking.

17. Why is Rohini perpetually smiling? It appears that you must be smiling even while asleep. What’s the secret of your perennial happiness?

A17. Well my mom used to tell me that as a baby, when I woke up the first thing I did was smile  I guess I have nothing to be sad about… I have a wonderful family who supports me, I am doing what I really love – sailing, I enjoy my medical course, my friends and travelling the world. I guess I have lots of reasons to smile.

18. If you had the choice of taking any one man in the entire world (past or present) out on a date, who will it be and why? Where will you take him?

A18. Roger Federer – I guess I would take him sailing around New Zealand… and talk about anything other than tennis! As I am sure he talks about it enough.

19. In a rigorous sport like sailing the physical training you undergo is easy to grasp but what about your mind! How do you train your mind?

A19. It takes loads of experience to understand the wind and water. As the playing field is never the same in any venue you go to. I read a lot of books on sailing, tactics, meteorology and motivational books. They certainly help condition my mind. There is also a rule book that we need to know to help with our racing strategies.

20. Do you believe in God? Do you carry any lucky charm with you while racing?

A20. I do believe in God, but not religion. I do thank him when ever something good happens and I seek his blessings before any big event. Right now I wear a ‘ KORU’ which is a Mauri charm from New Zealand made of cow bone that symbolizes – ‘ harmony and a new beginning’

21. Have you ever wished to be anyone other than Rohini Rau? If so, who!

A21. Nah! I am really happy with who I am at present and possibility of who I might become. Like I said I couldn’t ask for a better life. Maybe a few sponsors would definitely make like a lot easier for my parents, as it is they who fund a lot of my Olympic Campaign

My email id is rohinirau@gmail.com
I am based in Chennai
ISAF World Ranked 152 in the Laser Radial class

Soft Snow


Nearly fifty percent of all my life's conversation has revolved in and around 'snow' or its derivatives. I can't live without them. I simply love the soft flurry substance that falls so silently from the sky above. Most of my friends are snow lovers too. We just love it, no reasons, no justifications... simple fact of life. Innuits have more than 50 synonyms for snow and ice, I have more. But to put things simply has been the underlying principle of my life. Here's a short verse for all my friends who love snow and love what it does to them, and also for those of you who would want to befriend snow. Believe me, there's absolutely nothing like the snow. Enjoy the thoughts:

Soft Snow
Silent Snow
What I want
Do you know

Soft Snow
Silent Snow
Cover the night
And its starry glow

Soft Snow
Silent Snow
I am tired
Please fall slow

Soft Snow
Silent Snow
Fall hard
Let it blow

Soft Snow
Silent Snow
Block the roads
For she wants to go

Soft Snow
Silent Snow
I love you
Please don’t go

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Evocative Book Titles (Fiction)

I am a voracious and never-say-die reader. I read and read and read. Even in my expeditions I carry huge caches of books for the days when we will be tent bound due bad weather. My personal library exceeds few thousands easily and it keeps growing every month. I borrow books from every library and friends possible and at any given time you will find at least 2 – 3 books on my bedside table. I like to read few books parallel simultaneously. So here comes a post on the kind of fiction titles I like. I would write more posts on my books for sure.

There are great books and there are great book titles and then there are great books with great titles. Like a person, books are known by the titles first and then by the names of the authors. Though most often the titles do not necessarily tell us anything about the story contained within, they do ideally give us a hint to the general mood of the story. A hint, a faint clue as to what we might hope to expect. It’s another case altogether that many times the clue is misleading and the story is entirely different. Some titles are downright direct and are names of the central character or the location. Some titles are description of the character, location, or seasons through which the story flows. Among all sorts of titles I like the evocative ones the most. Those titles that ignite my imaginations into instant flow of thoughts even before I have registered the author’s name or have had any further clue to the central plot. Few titles have this unique quality of transporting the beholder into a different land. The following are a list of 20 such books (out of my favorites), along with the authors without any order of preference whatsoever. The criteria for inclusion being that these are all in English and I have personally read them. Please suggest more such titles so that the list can grow.

1. And Quiet Flows the Don – Mikhail Sholokhov. This book is often compared to War & Peace in terms of its dealing with the Russian life through traumatic times. A true classic and a must read for those who wish to understand the Russian psyche better. I had heard the title much before I came across the book and realized its actual plot. To me till then, and even now, it evokes the visual image of a mist floating and flowing over a silently running river.

2. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell. This is the only book title in the world with more than three words, which Google throws up the moment you type in the first word. This shows the popularity of this one time novelist’s work that has spewed an entire genre of writing. It literally came out of a hospital. Based on the backdrop of the American Civil War, Gone with the Wind is a vigorous romantic tale of two lovers. Can you imagine that our gallant heroine of indomitable will, Scarlett was initially named ‘Pansy’! It is one of the top 20 bestselling fiction books of all times and continues to sell like hot cup cakes even today. I had a tough time sieving through the winding narrative and the romantic overtures but I doggedly pursued my mission since I wanted to have this book under my belt and finally finished it only as recently as in 2008. I am yet to see the movie though. This title to me has always stood as my life’s ethos. I am forever going off with the wind, and as many of my friends say that I am usually gone with the wind and mostly I do go to places where there is nothing more besides the snow and the wind. This title evokes within me my wanton and free spirit.

3. Sound of Music – Google wise, this is even more amazing. I typed out ‘S’ with a forlorn hope that my name would pop out and instead it was… you guessed it right. The original title of this book was, in transliteration, ‘The Story of the Trapp Family Singers’. Thank god for some creative juice in the writer’s mind who adopted the original into the most famous musical play of all times. I had seen the movie in my pre-teen days and had fallen in love not only with the music and the dazzling Julie Andrews but primarily with the Austrian landscape. At 15 when I first arrived in Salzburg to learn the basics of mountain craft, I was certain that I would find dancing girls and women through the alpine meadows. My son-of-a-gun instructor had other plans though. I grew up with music in my genes since my mother was and still is a die-hard music exponent. Never has any other title mingled the two loves of my life in so right a proportion, mountains with music and of course not to forget the dancing Mademoiselles.

4. Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy. Till I actually read this book I lived under the misconception that it was named ‘Far from the maddening crowd’. I love solitude and intentionally avoid crowded places. I find people maddening and madding. This title seemed tailor made for me. I still remember the day when I found this book at the age of 13 in our school library and had to fight tooth and nail with the scowling librarian that I could and would read the book in question. I did not. I just kept it under my pillow and dreamt of places where I could escape to from the madding crowd. I read it few years later when I had to dissect it as a part of my curriculum in a school I never attended in reality. It was my first brush with Mr. Hardy and for some odd reason felt that he was the inspiration for ‘Humpty’ of ‘Dumpty’ fame. I fell in love with Mr. Hardy and learned of the fictional Wessex County. I read several Hardy novels thereafter and though ‘Mayor of Casterbridge’ caught my fancy more, the title of FFTMC remains the most charming and evocative of all. But it remains a mystery to me till today why he gave this name to an otherwise skewered tale of hopeless and absurd romance. Though from the point of view of evocative titles, this is clearly a winner.

5. The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller. I read this 1992 vintage classic only around 2003 after being literally bullied by my elder brother who is settled in Italy. His sympathy for the heroine is justified since she is an Italian beauty with a yearning heart frozen in the immortal sixties of America. By the time I read this book, the movie had already released, breaking box office records and starred my favorite pair of Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Yet I did not see it since I was by then so enamored by the book that I wished to visit Iowa and the covered bridges in real life first. And to find a beautiful Italian (since Italian women are charming, mysterious and timeless indeed) Donna if possible. What I discovered was the true spirit and soul of America as the founding fathers had envisioned, besides the covered bridges of course and the compulsory, you-can’t-miss-it John Wayne Museum. Even though I have seen and walked across many of the bridges, the title still evokes in my mind places of intense mystery bridging gaps over time and space of forgotten lands.

6. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What can I say? In my not-so-impressive literary fiction readership repertoire, Gabriel Garcia Marquez stands out as my most favorite author of all times. I know this is an erroneous statement from a lexicographer’s point of view, since favorite is and can only be favorite; no need to add ‘most’ or ‘least’. But with GGM I am willing to break every rule. I had lived with this title for several years without knowing the name of the author. I finally read it during an expedition and forgot all about the climb and the mountains around. Of course I climbed the mountain but I returned a transformed man. On return I gobbled up every bit of GGM’s work, anything and everything that was available in English language. Since then I have read OHYS perhaps five times at least. Along with his ‘Love in the times of Cholera’ OHYS remains within the top ten books of my life. In this epic saga told through several generations of the Buendi family in the mythical town of Macondo in Latin America we go through an amazing variety of cast and characters, situations and events that not only defy logic but imagination as well. GGM once honestly agreed that he got this story in a vision since it is not humanly possible to imagine such a story in its entirety. My love for solitude and self-companionship is legendary and this title will always remain among my favorite.

7. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque. Who would imagine that the content of such a peacefully evocative title would be all about war and its miseries! I read this book before joining the Indian Armed Forces. Having grown up with a steady diet of Commando Comics that had WW I & II stories in all its glory I immediately empathized with the protagonists and their agonies. It’s a powerful book and must be read by all who would wish to know what war does to the participants from a human point of view. I read several of EMR’s books post reading AQOTWF but none could evoke my senses as this one. The title spews entire dreams in my mind, I would love to find that western front where all is quiet and peace prevails forever.

8. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie. Originally titled ‘Ten Little Niggers’ this book is supposedly ranked as the seventh most best selling work of fiction of all times. That’s an astounding achievement for a crime fiction book by an English dame that doesn’t have an immortal central detective protagonist. This book might never be included in a serious literary genre list but from my personal point of view, the title is a real winner. It tells about our future, about the future of all that exists today since one day, there would be none. I find it mysterious, prophesying, gripping and spellbinding. If any of you haven’t yet read this book, then please do. I read this novel first on a train journey from my duty station to home and had finished it at one go non-stop. I can’t readily think of any other book that had ever gripped me with an equal intensity.

9. How the Steel Was Tempered – Nikolai Ostrovsky. I read this book purely provoked by the title that for some reason evoked within me the image of a naked Samurai sword. It’s a tremendously powerful work based on the author’s own life and chronicles the rise of socialism in the early twentieth century Russia. Whenever I heard the title I saw a dismembered pair of naked hands, gripping a Samurai sword, holding it aloft over a naked flame of sheer intensity. When I read the book I could feel a deep connect between my earlier vision and the underlying theme of the fiction.

10. For Whom the Bells Toll – Ernest Hemingway. Often listed among the all time best sellers this book is frequently cited as Hemingway’ finest work of literature. The title had preceded my reading the book by several years. It evoked within me a lofty grass covered green hill by the sea side that has a covered bell tower right at the top, which is tolling melodiously as it swings to and fro in sync with the invisible breeze. I wouldn’t see any living human or animal, nothing at all anywhere within the visible horizon. The bell is simply tolling without any obvious purport or design. Borrowed from a composition of John Donne called ‘Devotions upon Emergent Occasions’ Hemingway made this title and the tale immortal in his inimitable style of prose. It is a forceful story of one Robert Jordan’s experience in the Spanish Civil War. This is a biographical novel though and the book is repeatedly cited as the best form of story-telling that has ever been crafted in English language.

11. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas. The title of this landmark in literary fiction for some reason simply sounds mischievous. It is now synonymous with ‘three friends’ any triplet, anything that is a depiction of a trio, and always with a mischievous or naughty connotation. I will really be surprised if there’s even one among my readers who haven’t read this all time classic, if not in totality at least in some abridged version. To those who haven’t read this book it might come as a surprise that the ‘three musketeers’ are not the protagonists of this story, they are rather friends of the central character. With strange names as Athos, Aramis and Porthos their antics are even stranger and downright hilarious. Their motto: one for all and all for one is perhaps the underlying ethos of every military force in the world. A must read for all young people and those young at heart. Throughout my life I have been a member of many elite ‘3 musketeers’ group, each landing me in deeper and deeper of you know what.

12. Winter of our Discontent – John Steinbeck. This is the last classic JS penned and according to me his best. The title is taken from a line of Shakespeare’s Richard III hence we can call it an amalgamation of the British and the Yankees. It is a bitter sweet story of a man’s ideological turmoil against the burgeoning societies rule and law-bending ethics. Rarely have a man’s struggle through his life been depicted so vividly. Even before I read this book, I always loved to say out the title loud in my mind. I love winter and cold air though not so fond of discontent, I love the way it gels with the rest. If a blizzard keeps you homebound and you have a nice warm hearth by a blazing fireplace with a Labrador curled at your feet, then do pick up this book and you will find yourself journeying with the protagonist.

13. Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach. I am a professional mariner and I love to watch seagulls in full flight or frolic. They are beautiful, pristine and peace evocating. And we all know Dr Livingstone’s exploratory work in Africa, till then a literal dark continent. Combining these two elements, RB came out with a book of astonishing insight and inspiration that is among the all time best-selling books of its genre. I believe a gift should be timeless and books are the best gift that I can give. When a friend receives a book from me, it is an indication of acceptance. The top three books that I gift to my friends are Alchemist, Prophet and JLS. One per head of course. I keep going back to JLS from time to time for its sheer simplicity and intense narrative, about a seagull’s struggle and never-say-die spirit to soar beyond all hope and failures. It is a book that inspires me. It proves Bach’s genius in dealing with the subject through a bird. A must read for everyone who can read English. To me it will always evoke my own free spirit and flights into unknown lands.

14. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain. Undoubtedly, one of the finest works of modern English literature by one of the giants. Mark Twain is among my favorite authors and his inimitable humor and eye for details come in full force in this remarkable story. The word ‘adventure’ in the title was enough for me to let my imaginations run really wild and Huck Finn has such a phonetic mystery that I had read this book much before it came up as a part of my school curriculum. All those who have watched me grow up say that my exploits and I do have an uncanny resemblance to Huck Finn and his friend Tom Sawyer.

15. Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean. There was a stage in my life when I swore by AM and everything he had penned. There’s not a book he wrote that I haven’t read. I even read few of the imitations but finally gave up when I soared to similar high and cold places and somehow the heroic charms of the Second World War spies and soldiers did not seem so romantic any more. Nevertheless they were fantastic tales and did spur my thoughts to places I wouldn’t have ventured into otherwise. Among all the titles, WED stands apart in my mind as supreme. By choice I go to places where Eagles soar and angels fear to tread therefore making me a fool who dares. This book sums up my life in the shortest possible way.

16. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde. Though not his finest work, OW is probably known for this than the others. It’s a thin book telling the story of a painter and his model a young man by the name of Dorian Gray. This graphic title somehow in my mind has always seemed elusive. As if we are looking at this person through a veil of gossamer and therefore a hint of mystery. I love mystery. To me it also has a black connotation. It is dark, it is subdued and obfuscated. I have been a lifelong follower of all things occult and mystifying… I had to fall in love with this title, though I can’t say the same for the book in itself.

17. Diamonds are Forever – Ian Fleming. I want to be James Bond in my next life. I wish I was in this one. Ask any woman and she will tell you what this title evokes in her mind. This is an incredibly haunting title from an astounding writer who created perhaps the most desirable male fictional character of all time. The title charters me away into the African diamond mines and to countless adventures that those diamonds ensued in their trails. Though the book is not such a good read and the movie has such technical glitches that in today’s world I don’t think anyone will watch it more than fifteen minutes even though Sean Connery and his Scottish accent is as alluring as ever. But for this title De Beers would not be in business and so many suitors would still be on the right side of bankruptcy.

18. The Spy who came in from the cold – John Le Carr. Espionage and cold, a deadly combination and among my favorites for those precise reasons. This book single-handedly brought the cold war and espionage into every person’s living room. A pioneering and brilliant book that hasn’t lost its sheen though the technology of this book is totally outdated in today’s world.

19. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini. This title evokes an image of an endless desert with blazing sun baking everything in sight. It is not a pleasant image but I like such hardships and somehow it also sounds timeless and boundless. A modern day bestseller, it is a radiant portrayal of strife-ridden life in Afghanistan.

20. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera. MK is one of my top authors and of all his books this one is a clear winner by its title. I have no idea what it really evokes in me other than the exact feeling that the title dictates, and that is a very good feeling indeed. It is a complicated story of a man and a woman torn between love and guilt, passion and emotion. I won’t advice my young readers to read it though but those of you above 20 should read it. You may not like it but you won’t be able to help falling in love with MK.

In terms of authors represented in the above list we have obvious missing links for the likes of Albert Camus, Salman Rushdie, several of our contemporary Indian authors, Jane Eyre, D H Lawrence, etc. But as I have mentioned before these were picked purely on the strengths of their evocative titles in my mind. And of course there are many more such titles but I restricted the list to 20 that comes readily to mind. You are free to add to this list. Cheers

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fear of Failure or Success with Learning

Should we be scared to fail? What is that we are scared of about failing? And before that we must understand when do we really fail? How do you define failure? Is it objective or subjective? Many questions and there are zillions of documents and research data on this quest. Psychologists make mega-bucks trying to cheer people who conceive themselves as failures. What if these people are not really ‘failures’! They could as well be achievers on a different scale. From a rock climber’s point of view; failure on 5.9 could be a success on 5.8 or 5.7 and in my climbing world reaching the summit is not always the sole criteria for success. Even when we don’t reach the summit it could be a success; as I am wont to say that no matter where you reach, it is still a summit, ‘your’ summit.

Failure can and does evoke different emotions within different individuals, at different times under differing circumstances. I could feel disappointed or more encouraged; it could lead to my giving up or redoubling my efforts. I could brush it off as non-consequential or I could soak in deep anguish. I could feel low, dejected or motivated. Feeling of failure may vary in degree depending on the location and how many other people know about it. If no one knows about my failure then perhaps my fear of that failure would be less or negligent. Whereas even a slight under-performance or achievement, if it is widely known, might scare me more. Since failure is mostly a way how others view us and judge our actions or outcome of our actions against an established scale based on norms or preconceived notions.

Very few have the courage to defy the norm and stand head held high when they don’t perform according to the norms and that is the key of our fear of failure. The act of not succeeding to the degree desirable and that it is now known to many and hence I am subject to their ridicule or a lower image in their eyes, is what makes us most scared and hence we try our level best not to fail. We are scared not necessarily of the failure as such but the outcome of it. As to how others would react to our failures, being treated as outcast, being rejected from peer groups, being ostracized, etc even though we may not be failures on a different scale. None of us want to set a so called ‘bad’ example. We don’t want to be labeled as ‘failures’.

All our lives, right from the time we learn to walk and speak our parents and teachers all ingrain this deep within our psyche that it is a taboo to fail. Failing is bad, evil, and if we fail then we are not good – we all want to be good, we all want to be loved and feted and we all want to be included. We carry this fear all through our lives through all walks of our existence. We try not to fail and in so trying we often fail, at least on some scale of comparison. What if we could just put in our best efforts without a care about failure or success! What if we compared our achievements in terms of what we achieved and not in terms of what we did not (which is the usual way of measuring).

In order to categorize failure we as a society’s norm define certain benchmarks against which performances are compared. Without a scale for comparison there won’t be any failures. Fear of failure can also be a fear of the unknown since we mostly fail at what we don’t know or don’t know enough, but for me fear is replaced by curiosity and what I don’t know is a good reason for me to do it in an attempt to find out. If I do then it is good and if I don’t then at least I now know it for sure what I don’t know and if it is important enough then I can now learn it. Failures can actually be a progression towards success. Like it is said that ‘failure is the stepping stone to success’. Then why do we treat failure with such negative connotations? Is failure good then, should we fail, or aim for fail-proof life and systems instead.


Some of my original thoughts on the subject:

1. Success lies not in courage alone but in the courage to accept failures

2. There’s motivation to succeed where failure is not an option

3. Failure is nothing but success with learning

4. Success do not motivate us to improve or learn new skills or to innovate or explore or challenge ourselves again and again, whereas failure does

5. If I am not failing then I am not trying something hard enough

Failure can be good and it mostly is. We must welcome failures and those who fail rather than shunning them. When Edison failed 10,000 times before he succeeded in making the filament bulb, he said: I have not failed, I have just found out 10,000 ways that won’t work.

And if a thing is good, should we be afraid of it? I don’t think so; hence there is no real fear of failure.

In my field failure to accomplish what I want to; a simple bad pro placement, a misjudged piece of the tiniest rocky flake or a miniscule piece of ice can hurtle me to my death, ending all learning thereafter. I have no room for such failures since from the failure all I would learn is how to die and since death is inevitable it is a useless lesson. So I try not to fail. But on the larger picture I constantly do.

Since this post is not going to make me popular with the parents, teachers and bosses though I would be hailed a revolutionary hero by the other side let me conclude this post with a rejoinder. While failure is good, it must not become a habit out of lack of efforts. You can’t fail since you put in less than what you are or were capable of and then bask in the thought that it is good. Fail if you have to but only after doing everything that you could within your power and resources and then don’t give up. Try and try again. Success shall be yours. Please don’t measure success by constant lowering of your scale since after every success you should actually go up in your scale. Let it be a journey of self within oneself. My sincere advice to all my young friends, if you fail in a subject or don’t get selected in your sports team you have every right to feel bad about it, but you don’t have the right to give up on your dreams or wishes. Keep them alive, try harder next time. Don’t get trapped in comparison. You are you and you are unique and priceless. Do your best.

And my advice to the parents, teachers and bosses; don’t ostracize, don’t compare, don’t ridicule… please remember the child is already hurt and feeling guilty for not having performed up to your expectations. Hug her, comfort her, show her that failing is not the end of the world, let her try again or in different fields and then encourage her to go on with life. Teach the child to face failure boldly and objectively and not be afraid of it. Such children will grow up without fear and will attempt things never dared before. We live in the Aquarian Age, the age of discovery and innovation. In this age we need children and adults who are not scared to experiment and explore. And they will convert failures into ‘successes with learning’.

Failure is no more or less important than success. They both are necessary as one complement the other like day and night. Without one the other wouldn't make sense. And we need to experience both to have a full life.

I will conclude with Edison: Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

P.S. The above came out of a brief deliberation on how to tackle ‘fear of failure’ with my friend Rasmus who is a motivational speaker and a bestselling author from Denmark. When two like minds collide something must be the outcome, so it was with Rasmus and me. Thanks my friend for the thought provoking discussion.