Saturday, December 30, 2017

Summing Up 2017

 I know I am guilty of not summing up the year 2016 and some of you might have missed that annual ritual in my blog so here I am back to sum up 2017.

As always I would begin with some interesting statistics and then go on to some elaborations.

Countries visited (in chronological order) – Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Norway, Greece, Germany, Nepal, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Slovenia, Italy, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Total 17 countries including 3 first time (Montenegro, Kosovo, Laos), which has now taken the number of countries visited to 178. This leaves me around 18 more to chalk up during the rest of my life.  Unless UN adds more recognized nations to its list.

Total distance covered (approximately) – I travelled to three continents, crossing the Atlantic and several seas couple of times, and as per my guesstimate during 2017 I had covered around 148,000.00 km. Of this, around 100,000.00 by air, 40,000.00 by road and water, and 8000.00 on foot. I spent total 271 days outside of India and of the 94 days in India, only 22 days when I wasn’t on the road. And these 22 days were spread through several cities and towns.

Physical extremities - highest point – just above Balcony on Everest south side at 8250m, while the lowest must be somewhere underwater in the Aegean Sea.

January 1st 2017 I was upon a mountain that is the highest in the world when measured from Earth’s Centre, namely Chimborazo in Ecuador. It was my third ascent of this peak. From there several other high mountains including Everest saw my presence. Aberration to my choice of places to visit happened towards the end of the year when I took an impromptu flight into Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. What exactly was I doing there beats me except I know for sure that I was gorging full time on mangoes and exotic fruits while gulping in staggering number of temples and religious sites in all shapes and sizes.

As always the year was full of adventures of body, mind and soul and I met and shared my life with hundreds of people from around the globe that I crossed paths with at places where neither of us were meant to be, yet there we were. Memorable among them, an old Finnish man with severe gout relaxing by the Sea upon a deserted island, a middle aged Swiss Lady in search of her ideal man, a young girl bereaving the loss of her soul mate, a monk with FB account full of beautiful girlfriends, a French lady sketching the magnificent sunset upon Mekong while her partner patiently holding her parasol, an old German lady capturing her trip through watercolours, while a young Spanish maid looking for an escape from her life. I found generosity and kindness everywhere, all doors opened to me and never was I shunned or hated or turned away. If we are willing to open our soul to others that’s exactly what we would receive in return, I learned this lesson once again.

There were lives and deaths too. Three of my climbing friends departed mortality doing exactly what they loved doing while two became proud parents. I continued to spread my message on dissolving boundaries of body and mind in order to accept and understand each other through our differences and not live in fear or hatred of the unknown. I told stories and hearkened more, I stopped and paused often too, pondering and just learning to be in the being. I continued to read and passing from one book to another, always leaving one behind from where I picked a new one.

I finally accepted that to learn some form of musical instrument I must seek one that is easy and compact to carry and my ambition of becoming a piano or harp or saxophone virtuoso was as imbecile as impractical. My piano teacher suggested harmonica and so I now have a harmonica, I also have a pack of card (though I don’t play cards), which is the same thing more or less. Both of which are easily carried in person no matter where I go.

I also sent inquiries of my first inspirational book to several international book agents and publishers. Needless to say they all declined, either I wasn’t good enough or they weren’t interested in this genre. Friends suggested self publishing in Kindle, yet I tarry. Let’s see what happens in this regard in 2018.

I began the year being 4 kilos underweight, then gained some before Everest, plummeting again abysmally upon the mountain and finishing the year at exactly where I was at the beginning. Remarkable what a diet of fruits, salads and brisk walking can achieve.

I am slowly coming to terms in accepting my mother’s physical absence; time is indeed the healer, even though her memories are becoming stronger. I talk about her to everyone more, keeping her alive through my words and passing it to others. I regret less now about the fact that I didn’t spend enough time with her, having accepted that I always did my best under the circumstances. Regret is never the solution, rejoicing is. I rejoiced more this year that I was born to her and that I am whatever I am is due to her guidance and lessons.

I tried to become a better version of me, and know for certain that best is yet to come and never will. Yet we must continue to strive upwards and onwards.

Was the year meaningful, some might inquire... as meaningful as the word is, it was a year, a collection of 365 days and 31,536,000 seconds give and take a few. If you want, you can find some meaning within this time span while my Zen mind has taught me to be without being. Hence if there was a meaning then it is still out there somewhere while I am just being be.

Not all stories can be told, not because some are not worth telling, but because there are simply too many to be told and not enough time to relate and hear. The stories that came out of 2017 might or might not be ever told but they remain the foundation upon which I shall build 2018. And thus from one year to another life will and must go on. 

I would like to conclude 2017 by expressing my deepest gratitude and love to each one of you who showed me the way through your kindness, love and words and actions. To you, my friends, I offer my stories weaved out of my memories of this year and the ones gone by while the New Year and the ones to follow hold promise of untold wealth and priceless memories.

Never forget to breathe, to hydrate and to slow down and to look within where all answers lie waiting to be found. 

And as always I will see you on Top!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Ramble through Kosovo - Trail Via Dinarica

I am curious to visit and experience new places, especially those that are labelled difficult to reach, hostile (geographically) and otherwise out of main touristic destinations. Since Kosovo declared her independence in 2008, and formed itself as the youngest and newest European nation, it has been on my travel wish list. Formerly considered a war torn and ravaged nation, it is presently a haven of peace and tranquillity. Finally this year, during my European trip, I decided impromptu to dip into this small nation of wonders. Needless to say, I am primarily attracted to the natural bounties, mainly mountains and forests, of a nation. Other attractions like culture, history, craft, museums, and any kind of manmade structures, aren’t that high on my list. Though I like unplanned trips, which takes twists and turns according to my impulses, it never hurts to do a bit of research, especially when Uncle Google is so accommodating. And during this research I came across an absolute gem called ‘Via Dinarica’ of which, I am ashamed to admit, I had no clue.

At 1260km, stretching from the highlands of Slovenia in the north, sweeping south and as well as east and west, through Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, finally tapering off into the accursed mountains of Northern Albania; it is one of the longest mountain hiking trails in the world. As I dived deeper into this trail descriptions and reports, I also realized much to my relief and amusement that unbeknownst, I had already completed large swaths of this trail during my earlier trips to other countries that share this trail. So I decided that it was time for me to complete the 130km (approx) Kosovo section of Via Dinarica. Though there are couple of excellent websites about Via Dinarica, I was finding it hard to find any concrete details about this trail, regarding exact starting points, places to camp, resources along the way. I wouldn’t bother about these details if I wasn’t constrained by time, but this time I was as my visa duration was coming to its natural conclusion. With my Schengen Visa, I could stay in Kosovo for 15 days, which I figured was enough for me to not only complete the trail Via Dinarica but also to plunge at few other places in Kosovo.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Climbing Formula

Once an aspiring mountaineer asked, how to climb a mountain, and I replied, by climbing it. And then the other day someone asked, how to realize our dreams, and I replied, by realizing it. There are no secrets to climbing or achieving anything in life; we simply have to do it, convert our ideas, thoughts, and dreams into action. There is no substitute for hard work. No matter how amazing our ideas and dreams might be, they will remain mere ideas and dreams unless we get up one day and take action to make them really happen.

Newton proclaimed: every action has an opposite and equal reaction. Our life is nothing but a series of actions and reactions. Even when we do not act, there is a reaction, non-action reaction is non-achievement. I wish we could climb a mountain just by dreaming of it, or contemplation, or mere planning. I remember once during a rather precarious and difficult section of a climb, my partner asked me, how she could climb through this pitch. My answer was simple: climb in any way that you possibly can. I didn’t tell her of any techniques or didn’t offer her any extra equipment or anchors, but I asked her to dig deep inside of her, deeper than ever before and to come out with something that she had never done before. And she climbed through the section eventually.

One of the greatest and influential books, that has been ever penned, Geeta, which is supposedly a long sermon delivered by Lord Krishna to the warrior prince Arjun during an epic battle thousands of years ago, says that only through action or through the Laws of Karma (action) can we achieve anything. We must always do our duty, our Karma, our action. Without action nothing would ever happen.

Based upon the Laws of Karma here is my formula for climbing any mountain or overcoming any hurdles in life. I call it the 7 Steps Formula –

Step 1 – Take the first step. This would start your climb. This is the most important step of all, without which you would never leave ground.

Step 2 – Take the next step and then another and then more. Just keep going. Never stop or give up till you have given your best shot to the climb. And if you stop before the place where you wanted to climb, ask yourself have you given everything that you could under the circumstances and now you must go down! If the honest answer is ‘yes’ then go down certainly. But if there’s even an iota of self-doubt then continue with the next step.

Step 3 – dig in hard and don’t budge no matter much opposition or challenges come your way

Step 4 – always remember that reaching the top is only half of the climb, often the easier half. Conserve your energy for the return; don’t get so exhausted that you have nothing left for the return journey. Don’t go so far that you cannot return.

Step 5 – cater for emergencies and unexpected obstacles because they are bound to happen. Instead of getting worried or frustrated when things don’t go as per plan, just face it with whatever you have. Remember that nothing lasts forever and whatever it is however bad it may be will also not last forever.

Step 6 – prepare as much as you can for the climb. Train the hardest, make yourself as well equipped and knowledgeable as you possibly can, and then train some more. There is no upper limit to training. General Patton said it best: the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. The more you train before the real climb, more are the chances of reaching the top.

Step 7 – keep going even when you feel that you can’t take another step. No matter how tired or exhausted you are, you can always take a step, perhaps a tiny one but a step nevertheless. The only way you cannot take the next step is if you are dead. Remember when you decide to give up; you might just be one step below the summit, so take that step.

Now the obvious question that may arise is why only 7 steps; aren’t there any more steps! Certainly there are many more steps but these 7 are the fundamental ones, all the others are derivatives or follow ups or repetitions. Moreover I restricted my climbs to only 7 steps because once I read somewhere that the human mind cannot grasp a formula if it involves more than 7 steps and neither can the human body sustain more complexity beyond 7.

Happy climbing! 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Life Above All

No mountain, not even Everest, is worth dying for and there’s no triumph upon the summit of any mountain, however easy or hard fought the summit might be. There’s only exhaustion, trepidation, some amount of bewilderment and perhaps a sense of relief. Most summits are desolate, hostile and unfit for human existence. There’s no pot of gold, no glory, no treasure anywhere on these lofty places where we stay only few minutes after having struggled through weeks and in some cases months of inhuman conditions. Why do this, again and again, is the purpose of the climb to summit, how sometimes we forego all caution and put our very lives at stake to claim that momentary glow of being at the summit, throwing all cautions to wind. How does one single step become more important than anything else we have or love including our lives? And upon no mountain is this more evident than Everest.

When we are too focussed on success or reaching the summit, we often do not enjoy the climb, cursing every moment of the endeavour. We lose patience, ability to weigh risk versus gain; our intent becomes an all consuming drive to reach the goal. The greatest loss indeed is the experience of the journey, every moment of the climb that teaches us something sublime and unique. We forget to pause and stare and look around and miss out the subtle beauty and small success that we achieve with each single step. What is most important is to do our best, yet not to kill ourselves in the process. Nothing is more beautiful than life itself. We should push our limits certainly yet understand how far it can be pushed before we go over the edge. It’s like blowing a balloon to the maximum but not bursting it in the process.

It is that tiny threshold between life and death where we reach upon our quest where we must understand and be able to differentiate on which side of the threshold we are. Most of the times that threshold will actually take us to the summit, but at times due to circumstances beyond our control that threshold will paralyze and grip us at a level less than where we wish to be.

The question is how far we should go before we realize that we have gone far enough! And that we should turn around and go home before it is too late. In the mountains I use my gut feelings, my instincts and my intuition that has been honed over 40 years of climbing and exploring some of the most dangerous and hostile natural elements. And most importantly I feel that we all must have a good reason to come back safe, a motivation that is bigger than life itself and self-preservation, which will push us towards safety when things are falling apart.

I personally couldn’t care less if I died or survived over all these years, yet what always brought me back, even from the brink of oblivion was the thought of my mother waiting for me back home. I could die happily if she wasn’t around. My self-preservation purely for myself wasn’t strong enough. So when my mother passed away last year in June, I kind of wondered what would happen when I am in a dangerous spot next. Many of my friends urged me to be extra careful in the mountains and some advised that I should find a new motivation to live. I have always been careful since I value life yet I must admit that I have now found the ‘motivation’ to keep coming back.

Having lived on the edge all my life, at the brink of death I have realized again and again that there’s nothing above life. I cherish life more because I realize how quickly and unexpectedly it could end.