The year of 2013 is nearing its predestined end. Even though we are still a fortnight away, I am offering my regular year end post bit early as from tomorrow I would be in situations from where a post may not be practically feasible; and perhaps where a post or internet would not be a part of my itinerary at all. Yes, you guessed it; I am off into my mountains.
Barring a few, who have sighted me recently, perhaps most of you out there who know me only vicariously by now presume that I am no more, not in the physical sense since my last post happened more than three months ago. But I am here once again to disappoint you. I am alive, very much so, and laughing at the paradox of it all. Though I must say if not for the year end post, I would have written another post only in 2014, since till now I had written exactly 13 posts, and that seemed beautiful for the year 2013. But alas, as so much in life is unpredictable, you will now have 14 posts in my blog for the year 2013. And why did I want to keep 13 posts for the year 2013? Well, if you reverse it, it spells my birth date – 1302 or 13th Feb. So 2013 has been a unique numerological year for me. Such a year has never been before and will never again be in the history or future of mankind, no matter how far or long that future is. And I am one of the lucky ones living right now, who could have a year of such significance. So now read on and discover what I did this year, where all did my wandering feet take me and how it once again turned out to be as much as a nail biting adventure as my perennial soul searching quest for what I know not what I seek!
Countries visited – 12
New Countries visited – two (Andorra and Monaco), which took my tally of countries visited to 152, leaving 44 countries in my wish list
Distance covered (by air) – 61,500 km, roughly five times Earth’s diameter (I am horrified at my carbon footprint) though this is nothing compared to the world’s top flying business executive who has flown a whopping million plus miles in one year
Distance covered (by road / train) – 3700 km
Distance covered (on foot) – 1600 km
Highest point reached (figuratively) – Zurich (for various reasons)
Highest point reached (literally) – summit of Mt Everest
Lowest point reached (figuratively and literally) – Monaco
Lowest temperature encountered – 44 deg below freezing
Highest temperature encountered – debatable
What did I learn – live wherever you are and life is great
What did I relearn – to live and love without fear
2013 for me started with a mild dawn, submerged into the golden halo of a tepid sun, across the Pacific coast of California. Normally on a new year I am sleeping on ice so this was a novelty to wake up on a soft warm bed and then nursing a steaming cup of chamomile while staring at the beautiful morning across the roaring sea. From there I got back to India and started preparing for Everest. After Everest, I had a brief respite before zipping across to Russian Caucuses and summit the highest peak of Europe, Elbrus. Few smaller climbs after this and I was crossing the Atlantic once more heading to Canada, where an eclectic conference of TED Fellows and several superb hikes awaited. Returning from Canada is always a challenge but despite that I had to as Europe beckoned. A month and half long sojourn through eight nations, whipping up and down steep mountain faces ending in a magnificent conference in Zurich. The following were the high and low points of the year in no particular order –
Everest and Elbrus (highest points of Asia and Europe respectively) aside, I climbed the highest points in Greece (Mt Olympus) and of Monaco (a street top named Patio Palace at the end of the stepped lane named Chemin Des Revoires), the second highest summit of Andorra and the second and third highest summits of Lichtenstein. So I guess I have to return to Andorra and Lichtenstein to get to the highest points. And that I would love to since both these tiny nations are right after my heart with boundless mountains and lush green valleys and mountain lakes.
The moment I stepped in Monaco I realized it had just dethroned Luxemburg as the worst country I have ever visited in my life. It was truly pathetic and decidedly horrible, only saving grace being the lovely pizza I ate. No sooner had I entered all I wanted to do was climb to the highest spot, which I had been told ended at the end of a series of spiraling stairs, and then just get the hell out of here. Getting in was not so difficult but like a typical hell hole, getting out proved to be nearly impossible. No wonder it is the world’s most crowded nation. I am sure but for the sea, every resident would have died of suffocation. Never again, I swear, would I return to Monaco.
Andorra on the other hand was a true delight and I fell in love with it as soon as I entered its mountain bound landscapes. Two narrow valleys with deep gorges define this small nation and there are hundreds of possibilities for someone like me. I am told it is beautiful in the winters. Lovely people, spectacular mountains and dreamy trails, I am surely returning there one day.
I was surprised to see Greece after so many years, especially since I had been hearing the so called economic crises and that Greece was about to go bankrupt as a nation. The warmth and hospitality of the people was still the same and perhaps due to the crises, the eateries offered entrée and dessert on the house, which often was as big as the main course for which one pays, and all served with so much humor and candor. That pretty much sums up my Greek holiday. I had presumed that I won’t return to Greece any time soon, but I would be proven wrong in the next year.
Switzerland is like second home since I have some of my dearest friends there and also because of my long climbing association with this picturesque country. This time, I didn’t climb much but had fun all the way in and out. Memorable being a surprise attendance to the TEDx Zurich and I was absolutely delighted and humbled to find so many from the audience who remembered my talk from 2011 and they all huddled around to chat with me and take pictures. I had safely presumed no one would remember me or my talk but to find a hall full of people who not only remembered me but wanted me to return was definitely very satisfying. Highlight was of course the YPO Greater Europe chapter annual conference. It was a three day whirlwind affair of talks, activities, fun, games and delectable food. My talk at St Gallen University on sustainable lifestyle and why we must save the planet went off really well with the students and faculty and I was happy that perhaps I had been able to convert few money making machines into caring and responsible leaders of tomorrow.
Southern Alps of France was a new area as it is a true rock climbing destination, so this time when I discovered its hidden jewels I was totally struck by its sheer beauty. Verdon Gorge is a place where you must go if you ever visit France and you are not an ice addict like me. You will absolutely fall in love. I regret that I didn’t have more days to explore this area as much as I craved to. And camping in the middle of a vineyard with the scent of Mediterranean soil was one of the remarkable things I did upon the French territory.
Return to Lichtenstein is always nostalgic since it feels totally like home, not only because it has mountains everywhere but also a home where I truly feel at home, one of my extended families being in Lichtenstein. That remarkable home where I can watch the snow ridges while taking a break in the loo. I have always believed that real gestures mean more than mere words and this is amply proved in my home in Lichtenstein and I feel truly blessed to have found this home by the oddest of events, I was truly destined to belong here and the people of this home truly belong to me. Besides all the climbs and craziness I did here, the highlight this time was meeting one of the world’s speed skiing superstars and then to go hiking with him and showing him some of the climbing moves.
Now I am back to my mother’s home, ready to leave again in few days and I know on this New Year’s Day I would be walking on ice, back to my vertical terrain. My travels are merely extensions of my own curiosity and insatiable need to discover, explore and to find out the depths of the human heart since what always makes my journeys memorable are not the places so much as the people I share my journeys with, most of them I meet randomly, purely by accident but like someone said, that there are no coincidences and each person that comes into my life, with whom I share a moment comes for a reason and for me the reason is always to learn and to teach. This year too I met an incredible number of diverse people on every sort of road and places and situations and also rediscovered those I had met before. As the year now concludes I can only look back and think of each one of them and smile at every memory for they are good and will always be with me, no matter where I go or if I never meet these people again.
Years will come and years will go for time has to move to remain time, just like I have to travel to remain where I always dream to be; which is wherever I am right now. Wish you all a merry Christmas and a very exciting New Year.