They say there are 2 kinds of people, those who love the mountains and those who love the beach. I fall under the category of the former. My love for nature and adventure started while I was young – with my first hike when I was 8 years old. It was the first time I was yanked out of my comfort zone and truly made responsible for myself. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but when you are young, you look at things with wonder rather than fear. I was part of a group – with people of all ages, each overcoming different hurdles, climbing something that seemed impossible and getting through it together. I made some amazing friends, learned a lot, achieved something huge and had fun while doing it.
The early years
I was hooked. I joined the hiker’s club in school and took every opportunity I had to go for these trips in the Sahyadris. I joined other organizations which took me to the Himalayas for the longer, multi-day treks. Each trek posing a new and different challenge, it shaped me and taught me the life lessons which I still use to this day. The first time I cooked, my first nunchucks (which kid wasn’t inspired by Bruce lee?), the first time I had brandy (to keep warm when we were wet and had got lost in the woods) and countless other firsts were all on a mountain. I wasn’t aware then, but the mountains taught me to have a sense of adventure while having clean conversations, positive thoughts, treat nature with respect, help others, work together, be humble, apply my mind and act instinctively, not take the easy way out, work to achieve goals and expand the limits of myself.
Countless trysts with nature later within Maharashtra and the gorgeous Himalayas, I was in my 10th grade – ready to give my board exams. These are made out to be the most stressful events of your life. All of a sudden, it was not an automatic choice to go for these treks. The school prioritized studies, while parents put the fear of something going wrong in you, as health was a primary focus. I remember this as being a big sacrifice I had to make. I was made to believe that I had to start making tough decisions for my future – moving from childhood to adulthood. I was shattered, but I didn’t end up going for any treks during the last year of schooling.
The trend was set and while I was in junior college, I ended up prioritizing girls, alcohol and all the other things a teenager does (sure, studies too). Responsibilities only increased with time – college, higher studies and finally work. I started going through years of not going for a trek. Each year I told myself that I would go, but I traded mountaineering for vacations on a mountain. Traded clarity and learning for comfort. I still loved the outdoors and although a lot of the activities that brought me joy involved being outside, I was losing sight of the true reason why I loved being outside. I didn’t surround myself with people that would enable me to go for treks and be in the wilderness. I was settling without even knowing it. Adulting right?
It took me a sort of quarter-life crisis to realize what’s important to me in life. I was turning 30 and I had made a lot of resolutions for the year (including going to the Himalayas for a trek). My birthday falls in November, and by the time my birthday arrived, I was severely depressed. I had packed my resolution list with all the things I wanted to achieve by the time I was 30. I felt like I was underachieving and was unhappy that I wasn’t realistic in my expectations for the year and life in general.
I realized that there needed to be a significant change in the way I was doing things. I realized that I needed to work hard to make things a reality.
I think until then I left it to the universe to provide. Things weren’t magically going to happen just because I had wished it. I had to put in the time and put in the work, set habits and take appropriate action! I had to take charge and take control – at least for those things I could.
Determined to set things in motion, I started asking my circle of friends if they would like to join me for a trek. It had been too long since I last went, and I was nervous to go alone. I lowered my expectations of going to the Himalayas and set my target on doing a day trek in the Sahyadris. It didn’t take me long to find 6 people (some had trekked before, while others were first timers) who were ready to go the next weekend itself.
A forgotten world
We collectively decided to climb Mahuli fort – a natural fort just a couple hours from Mumbai. I start doing my research on the trail, landmarks, and generally what to expect. I pack my hiking bag with my trusted swiss army knife, compass and other essentials. Memories flooded back of the countless lessons learnt from the past. I was getting nostalgic, and decided to make aloo chutney sandwich for everyone, which my mother used to lovingly make and pack when I was in school. I was nervous and excited for what lies ahead. I didn’t get sleep that night – I’m usually too excited to sleep a night before a trek anyways.
I had taken my car to make it easier to reach the destination. I had forgotten the fun conversations and excitement that could be possible at 5 am. The adventure had begun before we started climbing, as we had to find the base village. The logistics were taken care of when I was a kid. Now we had to figure this out by ourselves. The gigantic fort in our sights, we find a spot where we could park the car and decide to start walking towards it.
The clean air, the misty morning, the sounds of the wind and the birds waking up – it was another world. A forgotten world, which was so accessible from the city. Most of us were drinkers and smokers leading sedentary lives in the city. The climb wasn’t easy at all. But the clean air, stimulating conversations and the gorgeous views helped us take each step towards the top. When we finally got to the top, we sat and stared out in silence at the expansive view below. We were literally on top of everything. We all shared whatever we had gotten – which was beyond satisfying. We headed back down and while driving back to the city, we were full of life – already planning the next trek. We were all hooked and the foundation was set for the future.
A Hike a month
That year, although I had not gone to the Himalayas, I had climbed a mountain and found a group people with whom I could often go for treks. I wanted to feel this feeling forever. I made the first sustainable resolution for the coming year – a hike a month. I felt it was flexible and reasonable enough to achieve. It wasn’t too hard to find a group of people to go trekking, but if I wanted to do this every month, I needed to have a bigger pool of people to inquire.
Since there was no such place to find like-minded individuals, I continued with my quest of finding those interested within my social circle. Like a hiking evangelist, I constantly started speaking of my current experiences and adventures to see if anyone would be interested. Surprisingly, I found out that there were a lot of people who love nature and the mountains but don’t have the right motivator or platform for someone to guide them through it. I start adding them to our “Sunday Hiking” group. Every month we mutually decided on a trek based on the desire of the available group members.
Each month, there was a different individual motivated with a particular desire or goal in mind. The community was slowly and steadily being formed. I was happy to play a part in igniting this dormant passion which we all had and simultaneously have a group of friends who enabled me to pursue my passion. That year found myself being in the lap of nature each month including varied activities like stargazing and capturing the Milkyway galaxy. Most I have done in years. I learnt a lot about myself. The next year a few of us from the group even did a high-altitude trek at 15,000 ft in the Himalayas. I was now far away from the disappointment I had felt the year before.
2 years later, the group is now 70 members+ strong, comprised of individuals, with the love for the mountains as a common thread between them. It has enabled more than 25 first time trekkers. These same first timers who now drive the group forward in continuing doing treks often – with their new found sense of wonder. They continue pushing me out of my comfort zone and teach me new things about myself. I no longer can make excuses of time constraints, aches and pains and general laziness to avoid the mountains. This is a sustainable way that keeps my passion alive. Through Enlightened Sapiens, I hope to continue building this community. Get more people into Hiking and the beautiful lessons the mountains teach us. Give back and affect larger change for the betterment of nature and society.