Germany Backpacking Diaries

Why did I go backpacking to Germany? Solo?

Because you don’t always get to celebrate Easter with a German couple and a Syrian refugee with an easy going dog listening on patiently to your conversations about religion and world peace!

Or have an animated conversation with a young German guy on the flight who spent a year in India learning healing techniques at Varanasi and Hariharpura!

Or bask in the sun with another Indian solo traveler and hundreds of others in one of the many beer gardens at Munich!

Or get lost in the by lanes of Berlin not worrying a dime about where you are!

Or control your tears when listening about the World War II stories at the Jewish museum and Dachau concentration camp!

Or climb the church tower at Rothenberg ob der Tauber to catch a glimpse of the old city hoping not to get blown away by the wind!

Or travel with an unreserved open ticket in a city to city train sitting at the corridors and enjoying the pristine views of the countryside!

Or explain to an Italian – Peruvian couple over dinner that you don’t find elephants walking in the middle of the street in India!

I am not a rebel or a loner. I travel solo for the experiences. And Germany, to be honest, is because I am biased. I wanted to visit the country ever since I had learnt german in college.

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At Munich Residence

“Ab hier nudebaden” or something similar was the welcome sign at Hermann and Dorothea’s (my AirBnb host) house at Munich where I spent the first 4 days of my trip. My German skills were not good enough to understand what it meant and I soon forgot about it. But when Hermann pointed out to it during one of our umpteen conversations about German culture, I cracked up having realized that he had stolen the signboard in his younger years from the English garden, the largest park in Munich (Trivia : English Garden is bigger than Central Park, New York). It meant “Here onwards is the nude bathing area”. We had a hearty laugh over it but I cannot imagine a signboard like that being funny back in India.

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With Hermann and Dorothea

There were so many such small moments not just with people but with the country itself that made my trip all the more memorable. Like the few hours I spent at the Dachau concentration camp being intrigued by history like never before. I had goosebumps as I listened to my American tour guide talking about the prisoners of the camp and atrocities of Hitler.  Not to hurt anybody’s sentiments, but after spending 9 days absorbing tons of german history, I’ve realized that Germany has had a history of unpopular rulers. The King Ludwig I, whose marriage anniversary is celebrated as Oktoberfest every year, had more relationships outside his marriage than one can imagine. Then came King Ludwig II, who probably thought being a king sucked and went across building castles he never lived in; Neuschwanstein castle being the most famous one. He eventually committed suicide (the germans still believe that he was killed by his own family members). And ofcourse there was Hitler. My tour guide at Dachau left me with this question, “Nikita, what have we learnt from history?”. That evening, when I met a Syrian refugee (Hermann and Dorothea were volunteering at refugee camp which is how I met him), I realized it was one thing to read about Syrian refugee stories on “Humans of New York” but when you actually meet one struggling to settle himself in a new country, with tragic memories of his own country, you know that we haven’t really learned from our history.

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View from the church tower at Rothenburg ob der Tauber

History apart and keeping aside the fact that I wasn’t fond of the Ludwigs, I absolutely loved the beer garden tradition in Germany that they started. The cherry on the cake is when you find another solo Indian traveller to sit with in one of those many beer gardens after a long day in the city. English garden felt like home that evening.

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At the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Traveling alone had its own set of challenges as well.  I remember walking for hours in the lanes of Berlin and then having forgotten the name of the train station I had started from. Or the time when I almost missed my connecting flight from Istanbul. And then sometimes you just wish you could share your huge burger or that walk in the park with someone. Compared to Indian standards, 8 euros (INR 560) is a huge deal for a Mcdonald burger especially for someone who is on a budget trip. I did survive on Maggi noodles and theplas (Yes, Gujju genes at play) for the first few days!

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At the Chinesischer beer garden

Backpacking solo to a new country was always on my bucket list. But this trip was so much more than the tick on my list! The so much more I am not good enough to put in words. I wouldn’t do justice to it. But then as Mary Radmacher said “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world”. Cliché but true!

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Click it like KV!

The Other Side

“Frankly speaking, CA is my other side”. I smile at his humbleness. But he still reiterates that claim a couple of times over the period of the interview.

Meet CA Ketan Vikamsey.

ketan CA Ketan Vikamsey

Senior Partner at Khimji Kunverji & Co., a 75 year old CA firm and amongst the largest in the country. If you’ve ever had a chance to hear him speak at any of the professional conferences, you’d know how he could captivate you with his words. And if you glance through a few of the pictures in this write-up, you’d know he could captivate you even more with his real than life photographs. Photography is just his pursuit of happiness.

unnamed (1) The bigger stones give it character. The rock is what makes the waterfall

It all began with his interest in horticulture, floriculture & bonsai. As a college intern, he was the Joint Secretary for the…

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The Talking Sea

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I sit by myself, on the rocks, across the sea, staring into the nothingness.

“Bad day, eh?”  I hear someone say.  I look around but there is no one.  “I am all around you and you still look puzzled” I hear it back. The only thing all around me was the endless sea. So the sea wants to talk to me. I am definitely having a bad day.

Me:  Hi there, Mr. Sea!

I stay silent not wanting to think or talk about my bad day. I prefer small talk, I insist to the Sea.

Sea: You humans! You’re not bold enough as me.

Look at me, my wave.
I hit these rocks hard,  yet I am brave.
I rise again not accepting my dole,
A rock can break me not my soul.  

Me : That’s quite poetic, Mr. Sea.

But my waves are weak, my rocks too strong;
The road ahead seems just too long…..

Sea : You humans! You’re not ambitious enough as me.

I spread my shores far and wide,
In pursuit of happiness I never let hide.
I dream of a world that exists beyond mere existence,
Of storms and tempests and life above subsistence.

Me : That’s quite audacious, Mr. Sea.  

Ambition beyond existence was what I sought,
But my shores got cluttered, my world got wrought…..

Sea: You humans! You’re not humble enough as me.

I let the scorching sun dry me out.
I let the clouds pour their hearts out.
I let you mortals bring me pain
And yet I gave you food / water with zero disdain.  

Me : That’s quite commendable, Mr. Sea.

But my sun’s too hot, my cloud’s too dark,
My mortality is a question on which I do not embark……

Sea: You humans! You’re not …

I cut him off this time.

Me : That’s enough Mr. Sea.

You are you and I am I,
This rhyme is not really worth our while.

Sea :

Oh you fool,  but don’t you see;
The euphemism in this rhyme will make you free.
There are no rocks if there are no waves; No hope without fear,
Look beyond the clutter oh dear, the existence you seek lies right here;
And as my rhymes end too near, this is all you need to hear:
You choose your wave and you face your rock,
But you let not your ship come too close to the dock.
Because when the sun goes down and the clouds disappear,
You shall see this world crystal clear.
It will be the way it is and the way it is not,
Maybe not as perfect as you sought
But it’s definitely worth a shot!!

The talking sea has now gone and I am left smiling by myself. As I walk back, I see a teenaged girl, palms on her face, her head bowed down. And I cannot resist myself and ask “Bad day, eh?”

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The Startup Trail

My father is a tough man. The day I told him I was quitting my awesome day job to join a startup, he thought I had gone nuts. To those who do not know me well, I am a Chartered Accountant by qualification. I had a job most people in profession would consider a privilege to be a part of and which paid for most of my indulgences.

But then there came a point when I would walk on the sidewalk of my office building at night returning home, completely drained of energy, and with that feeling of peculiar emptiness. I realized that even though I was good at what I was doing, my heart wasn’t in it. That I did not want to spend all my life figuring out tax saving strategies or implementing Fortune 500 mergers. For months, I thought that the nagging feeling would go away but it didn’t.

So if you were to ask me if it was a tough decision to give it all up, it wasn’t. Yes, I could afford the pay cut. Neither was I really attached to the Big4 lifestyle and perks. I could live with the occasional “she has lost the plot” or the more annoyingly sympathetic “ladki hai, experiment karne do” look I got from people. And to all the male chauvinists reading this, yes, I am a woman with little financial responsibilities. But don’t fool yourselves with that. If you thought leaving your corporate job to join a startup is difficult, thriving at one is a challenge at an all together different level.

I completed a year at QuezX this week. Below is how my startup trail has been…..

On giving up my CA identity

If you are or have ever known a CA, you would know how proudly and sometimes almost arrogantly, a CA carries off that tag. The day I first walked into QuezX office, I had zero idea about what I was going to do at this place. There was definitely nothing CA like to do here. I took up Business Development as a challenge. And I sucked at it for a few months. Literally. I consoled myself with “I am just not a BD person” and it took me a while to realize why. Because even after I left my old job, I did not want to move out of that comfort zone identity. It was only when i let go of it, did I realize how good I could be at building up the business. It’s okay to have to make a cold call once in a while. It’s okay to hear a “No” from a client whose intellect you believe does not match yours or to talk convincingly to an investor having an intellect 10 times mine. Sometimes you just need to be courageous enough to let go your old self and be patient enough to keep working on what you could be.

On being okay with things not being okay uncertainity

When I joined QuezX, we were working on a product we thought would change how recruitment industry works. Few months into it, we realized we couldn’t really get investors excited about it nor could we get enough consumer traction with the resources we had. I spent sleepless nights trying to figure out what was it that we were doing wrong. But one thing you learn at a startup is that if plan A doesn’t work, there 25 more letters in the English language. We started working on an alternate idea we had in our mind. We put existing resources to work on its implementation. Today, we are doing exceptionally well on this product. Working at a startup has taught me to innovate in the face of uncertainty; to build products from scratch, to create something out of nothing. And only when nothing is sure, everything is possible1.

On wearing and owning multiple hats

I have been a BD manager, an operations manager, legal head, part-time tax consultant, marathon captain for our office team and a lot more. I’ve made investor presentations for my CEO and have been an email drafting expert for my colleagues. Some days are really tough. I’ve taken decisions I did not believe I was competent enough to take. I’ve taken ownership of tasks I did not know the ”ABCD” of. There are days I’ve kept my fingers crossed when clicking “send” icon on my email. Working at a startup has taught me to take risks and be responsible for them. And after all, anything that’s worth doing is worth doing badly until you get it right2.

On being awesome

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I’ve been lucky to have met a bunch of awesome people over the past year; my boss who has always been an inspiration, the tech team who have tolerated my ‘technologically handicapped” nature, the entire QuezX family which makes sure we are always up and running, the entrepreneurs / business heads I’ve met – I’ve seen the passionate ones, the innovators, the creators of products which would make you go “wow”. I take back little of their awesomeness with me everyday.

Sometimes I look back and ask myself if I took the right decision. And I always get the same answer. Hell yeah!

  1. Quote by Margaret Drabble
  2. Quote by Steve Brown
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The Finish Line – My First Full Marathon

I woke up with a start. I’ve always had bad dreams about being late for an important exam / event. I glanced at my phone. It said 3:40 am. Thank God!

I hadn’t slept too well. Rather I had slept too little for someone who has a full marathon to run. I walked to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. The puny little figure that stared back at me looked anything but a marathon runner. My thoughts went back to the day when I first told Rutvi that I wanted to run the full marathon.

“Are you freaking insane?” she had blurted out. I had expected that reaction. It was one thing to finish my first half marathon in Jan 2014 and a totally different thing to want to run a full marathon in Jan 2015.

“I haven’t always done the sanest of things Ruts”. She had smiled unconvincingly. My sister knew me too well to know that there was no point arguing with me on this one.

And here I was on the morning of the D-day. I got my running gear on. Armband. Check. Cell phone. Check. Earphones. Check. Cash. Check. Running bib. Check. I arranged my hair for the one last time in the mirror. “Nikita Dresswala, you are awesome. You’ve worked really hard for this. Go get it now” I reiterated to myself. Self motivation can work wonders.

It took us almost an hour to reach Azad Maidan (start point). Thanks to Pratik, my seasoned runner friend, I did not have to spend the hour pondering about the race alone. But I knew he wasn’t going to be around for too long. His target finish time was much before mine. Rather, I did not have a target finish time. I just had a target finish distance of 42.198 kms.

So after our routine selfies and stretches, we decided to go our own ways at the start point itself. I settled at the back of the pack. It was 5:40 am already. My heartbeat accelerated. I knew people at the front section had already started their race. In a few seconds, runners at my section would start moving. I did the last few stretches and then it all began.

I comfortably jogged past the start line with “Counting Stars” playing on my phone and in my head. A lot of runners tell me that they do a lot of their life thinking during their run. I always wonder how they manage to do that. Because when I am running, all I can think about is my run, the calculations surrounding it and everything related to running. Even the lyrics of the song playing on my phone don’t matter unless they motivate me to run better. And this is amongst the best things that I like about running. That single minded focus and nothing else. Even if I try to get something outside that’s bothering me, it doesn’t stay there too long. All those thoughts get back to my run.

running

I comfortably cross the 5k mark. I was running under my best timing. I ran with a natural tilt toward the seaside. Though born under a fire sun sign, I have an unnatural liking towards water.

But that comfort did not last too long. My left knee started troubling me somewhere around 15k. I did not want to slow down. The plan was to keep pacing till the sun was up completely and then slow down. But my plans never seemed to work out, especially when it came to running. I was already slowing down considerably.

Another few kilometers and I was clearly worried because I could no longer keep up any pace. I was on Bandra Worli sea link which is the best stretch to run and yet I could not run more than 500 meters continuously. I crossed the halfway mark with a painful knee. For the first time in the race, I was worried about finishing it.

I needed some motivation. I began to think about all the months that led to the race day.

There were the two Aarey half marathons which felt like running in some obscure village with the kuchha roads.

The messed up Navi Mumbai half marathon.

The Hiranandani estate half marathon + an extra 7k before the start of that race.

The Powai 30k practice run on that killer slope.

The Bandra 15k by the sea, the women’s 10k at BKC, the shivaji park and the marine drive run.

Then there were my lonely BKC runs and the dog that followed me for an entire lap on one of those runs. He is the only dog I have ever loved.

There were the treadmill runs and how much I loved them. It had taken me some effort to get off the treadmill and start practicing on the road.

There was the Powai running routine with my office gang with me as the running team captain. I wondered at what point they had reached in their half marathon and wondered what they would say if I did not finish mine.

I was off the sea link by now and much closer to home than I was at Azad Maidan. I tried hard not to think of home. I kept reciting Robert Frost in my head “Miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep”. For the first time I started noticing the runners around me. In a full marathon, after you cross a certain distance, the set of people around you are more or less the same. They either drop out or you finish alongside them. There was this young chap who never seemed to get enough of his camera, taking pictures every 10 mins. Then there was a 50 something sardarji from Chandigarh who wore “Chandigarh runners” Tshirt. He was the most entertaining guy around because he literally danced while he ran. He would do his bhangda style running every now and then. And then there were 2 handsome looking guys who used to wait up for each other if one got a little ahead. Sadly, they never waited up for me so I did lose track of them eventually. There were a few others but the most important of them was this 30 something guy in blue Tshirt. The blue Tshirt is all that I remember about him and I call him important because I followed the blue color till the end. I made sure I never lost sight of that blue.

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I began walking after the 23k mark. The exhaustion was setting in and the scorching heat made it worse. I tried to walk with my eyes closed for 10 secs and when I did open them, everything appeared blurred for a few seconds. I sipped a couple of sachets of energy drink and decided not to shut my eyes for the rest of the race. I continued walking with short jogs every now and then. I could see a lot of runners around me giving up, sitting on the sides. Some of them even puking. I tried not to think of them. I could just see the blue color ahead of me. Follow him Nikita. Focus. Just 12k.

My head got heavier. The city traffic had been opened to public which was a demotivation because it meant I was slower than most other runners who were now closer to finishing their race. The water points were closing their stalls except those few angelic volunteers who made sure slow runners like me got their share.

The other voice inside me was now louder than ever. It asked me to let go. That it was not the end of the world if I didn’t finish the race. That I was still better than all those sitting on the couch and watching TV on a Sunday morning. That it was okay to go home now. I wanted to be home. Tears swelled up my eyes. I wanted to talk to mom. I dialed home. But when dad picked up, all I asked him was to pick me up at the finish line. I couldn’t let him down. He had more confidence in me than I myself had. I did not want to give up. My heart was no longer in sync with my head. I was losing sight of the runner in blue. Damn!

It was somewhere around the 33km that I had my magic moment. The first of the rescue buses drove past me. Rescue buses are for those runners who are exhausted enough not to finish the race and wish to be dropped to the finish line. I saw 5 full buses driving along. The last one stopped next to me. The driver popped his head out of the window and said “Madamji, thak gaye ho aap. Baith Jao.” And in an instant even without giving it a second thought, I said a firm “No”. This time he said it louder “Madamji, last bus hai. Chalo”. I screamed at him “Nahi jaana bataaya na”. He still seemed to be looking at me unsure of what to do. And at that moment, I gathered all the energy I had left in me and ran. I forgot all about the pain in my left knee and my blistered right foot and ran. I ran for almost a kilometer and stopped when I was sure that the bus had taken a turn at the last signal. Looking back, it seemed like a stupid thing to do. I knew he could not force me into the bus but I still felt the urge to run. Because I knew I wasn’t running away from the bus but I was running away from the other voice inside my head. And I had overpowered it.

The rest of the race after that point was manageable. I found the guy in blue and kept following him. He too seemed to have taken notice of me and made sure I was around. The dancing Chandigarh sardarji also seemed to have mellowed down his tactics and kept asking me how much longer it was.

I sprinted in the last 300 meters which I later realized was nothing more than a slow jog. I saw my Mom at the 100 meters point. There were tears in my eyes. I ran past her to avoid her eyes. And there I was. The finish line.

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Hands down, that finish line was the toughest finish line of my life. No words or emotions can ever describe how I felt. I remember reading Paulo Coelho books and him talking about how pain could give pleasure and never could quite as much relate to it. But for the first time, I could feel pain in every point of my body and yet the glory of the finish overshadowed all of it. I thought of all the early morning runs. The painful runs. The hill runs. The Nike running app runs. The skipping of junk food days (I cheated once in a while). The hours spent in the gym. And the days I felt too anemic to run. The mandatory pre run physiotherapist consultation (thanks to mom and masi). Worried family, friends and neighbors.

A friend texted me “How was it?”. I replied “Its all worth it in the end”. It all is.

Thank You’s

There are a few people I need to give my thank you’s to. Thank you Killu mama, Pratik, Devashish and Nikhil; you’ll have been my running inspiration always. Thank you Bones, Vikas, Arjun, Ameya, Sanika, Neetu, Noble, Pritesh, Suraj, Aditi, Urvi, Prarthi, Raj, Shradha and all my running buddies for always being a motivation. Thank you Dad and Ruts for trusting my decision and capabilities more than I do. And thank you mom for everything; no words will ever do justice to what you’ve been to me. I know how much my running makes life difficult for you; both physically and emotionally. So thank you for putting up with me. I love you!

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My Bucket List Story

I lay on the examination table fidgeting with my case file. The bunch of medical reports cluttered in there made me nervous.

“So, how are you doing today young lady?” he marched in. I gave the doc my trademarked sarcastic smile. I had been sick for months. He had made me do innumerable tests, names of which I always had difficulty remembering, but the results of which were always negative. How did he expect me to be? I wanted to give him “I love being a regular at your office doc” but managed with “Not too bad doc” instead (My gastroenterologist is the last person I expect to read my blog).

By now, he had already grabbed the reports off my hand and was keenly studying them. I saw raised eyebrows at some point in the report. But I wasn’t really expecting much. There was never anything concrete that had ever come out of my earlier reports. So I was taken by surprise, when he looked up and looked right past me to my mom and said “Mrs. Dresswala, can I talk to you in private for 2 minutes?”

As much relieved I was about him finally finding something in those stool reports, the Bollywood filmi keeda in me had started talking. Why did he have to talk to her in private? I am not a 10 yr old. Is it something really serious? Am I very sick? Am I going to die? Why are they taking forever to come back? The few minutes they took to come back felt like hours to me.

And when they did finally come back, all he said to me was “Nikita, we’ve found some occult blood in your stool tests. We’ll have to do a colonoscopy tomorrow.” Before I could register what had been said, he was gone. Another test. I was furious. I stormed at my Mom, “Why did he have to talk to you in private? And what the hell is a colonoscopy now?”

That’s how began the worst nightmare of my life.

To avoid scaring me, my mom did not divulge me much details of her private discussion. However, that didn’t help. And when nobody else comes to your rescue, Google does. It was google who explained it to me that colonoscopy meant sticking a long camera tube up my butt to view my internal organs (excuse my in-your-face description). And no, this wasn’t the scariest part. If you were to ever open the Wikipedia page on colonoscopy which I hope you never have to, you would know what the scariest part about colonoscopy is. Colonoscopy is used to detect colorectal cancer. COLORECTAL CANCER! C-A-N-C-E-R. Believe me; when you read the C word, every single cell in your body shakes up. That day, I did my PhD on colonoscopy and colorectal cancer. I read very article there ever was on the subject. The symptoms. The diagnosis. The survival rate. I watched youtube videos of the random people’s colons to figure out how the cancer would look inside mine.

It was that night when I couldn’t get sleep that I made my Bucket list. I always prided myself on being spiritual. On my abilities to handle my fear of death and death itself. But I was wrong. I did not want to be the 22 year old kid with cancer who would eventually die. Or that one strong woman who fought back cancer. I did not want anything to do with the goddamn “C” word. There was so much I still I wanted to do in life.

And that “so much” definitely didn’t include working upto 10pm at office everyday. Nor did it involve studying 14 to 16 hrs day for two months straight. It also did not include crying over a heartbreak or a death that shook me apart.

That “so much” was about all the little joys I always wanted. The experiences I did not have the time for. Things I did not have the money for. Activities I did not have guts for. All of them left for a fabled someday which might arrive when I would run out of excuses to make. Maybe after the promotion cycle. Maybe after I get married. Maybe after I pass that stupid test. Maybe someday in the future I take so much for granted. That night I made the list of all these little things, and promised myself, that if I lived long enough, that if only I would have another chance, I would strike off every single of them from my list. I cried and prayed myself to sleep over my bucket list that Friday night.

Somebody out there did hear my prayers eventually. I will not delve deep into my colonoscopy and the events surrounding it (they would make up an entertaining post if I were to ever write about it). All you need to know is that the colonoscopy revealed that I did not have cancer. What I had was an inflammation disease which was curable with a few months on steroids. I would live to tell the tale! The tale of my Bucket list.

The above events happened over a year ago. And these were the events that followed it:

  1. I jumped off a plane from a height of 12000 feet. Skydiving, they call it.
  2. I’ve managed to complete 2 half marathons and a few shorter runs. If there is one thing you want to pick up from my list, it has to be this one. Running changes you in ways too difficult to put in words.
  3. I swam with fishes at the ocean bed. This one’s better known as snorkeling.
  4. I passed my CA exams. This one was for Mom, Dad and Rutvi. I’ve never seen them more proud of me
  5. The reason I titled my earlier post “8 reasons why you should travel alone, trek the Himalayas and sleep under the stars” was because they were tasks on my bucketlist
  6. I am close to reaching my 30 books a year target. Fiction. Non fiction. Self help. I’ve read them all

    My messy bookshelf. Picture credit : Rutvi Dresswala

    My messy bookshelf. Picture credit : Rutvi Dresswala

  7. I got myself a new and a more challenging job. All said and done, my work always has and always will define in a lot many ways who I am. I wasn’t taking any chances with this one.
  8. I’ve made more gratitude cards then I originally planned to. Be it in the form of birthday cards or thank you emails / texts or a sticky note left on a friend’s desk, I’ve found ways for thanking people for what they have meant to me.
  9. I scrapped through my salsa class. A special thanks to my cousin, Akshay, for being my partner in crime on this one

    Terrace practice nights with Akshay Anadkat

    Terrace practice nights with Akshay Anadkat

  10. I started blogging :). It originally was writing; later modified to blogging.

And there are a few others. Some of them a little too crazy to write about on this blog. And many others which I still have to strike off. Watching the Olympics live, working with the NGO I always wanted to spend time at, go backpacking to a new country, entrepreneurship, etc.

So why did I have to tell you this story? I certainly do not enjoy talking about my gory colonoscopy. Nor do I derive some kind of exquisite pleasure bragging about all the things I have done over the past year.

The deal is this. Of all those who managed to read this post till the end, if even some of you are inspired enough to tear off a page from your otherwise empty notepad and make yourself a bucket list, I’ll consider it a post well done. And for those who already have one, start striking off a few every now and then. Because I do not want you to reach your colonoscopy moment to realize that life is too short for excuses!

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8 reasons why you should travel alone, trek the Himalayas and sleep under the stars

Yes. I trekked the Himalayas. With a bunch of people I had never met before. And it has been amongst the best things I have ever done.

“You are just too inspired by yeh jawaani hai deewani. Or Queen.” This was the most common response I got from friends / family when I told them I was going all by myself to trek the Roopkund peak. So to clear the air, I wasn’t inspired by any of these characters. Because there was one fundamental difference between the lead characters of these movies and me. Unlike them, I wasn’t running away from anything (bad breakup, studies). I was and am at a point of life where I’m happy where I am. I took this trip for the thrill of doing it. Just that. You don’t always need a backdrop story.

And since I am not too good at descriptive documenting, I am going to list 8 reasons why you should do it.

1. Friends Galore

Photo courtesy ; Bharathan

Photo courtesy : Bharathan Raghavan

I had to spend 4 hours alone at midnight at the Old Delhi railway station due to a delayed train. With “A Walk in the Woods” (Bill Bryson novel) in hand and my backpack tightened to my shoulders, I silently spent the first 2 hrs next to a smelly guy on an old station bench. Just when I was losing my patience, I saw 3 middle-aged guys with a trekking rucksack on them. With a thank you prayer in my head, I approached them hoping they were in my trek group (the trek group was to meet at Kathgoddam where the train was headed). Turned out they were not. Embarrassed, I turned around to return to my seat. I don’t know if it was out of courtesy or genuine curiosity when one of them asked “So, is this your first trek?”. And that was the opening to Pandora box full of stories. Stories of the most amazing treks they had been on. Stories of camping and star trailing and animals in the wild. Stories ranging from outright funny to epic trails. I don’t remember how those 2 hours passed. And this was just the beginning. During the course of the trek, I made friends with a scientist. A HR manager. A lawyer. A couple of history grads. A whole lot of engineers. Die hard photographers. Bloggers. A guy who looked exactly like Alan from Hangover. And special mention to the Honey Singh fans.

2. Hygiene woes – whatever!

As much as I hate to admit this, here it goes. I did not bathe for 6 days in a row. Skipped brushing for 2 days. Survived without a mirror the entire week. Had soup, tea and dal in the same bowl before washing it (we had to wash our own utensils). And a few more but since I guess you’ve already reached the “ewwww” stage, ill leave it to just these. This is what you are brought down to when either the taps are frozen or if there is water, it would be cold enough to numb your hands. Did I mind it? Absolutely not. Like they say “When in Rome, do as the romans do”. In the mountains, you follow the law of the mountains. Survival of the fittest. Nothing else matters.

3. The Water Therapy

We city dwellers underestimate the healing power of water. In cities, the solution to every illness is antibiotics. In the mountains, solution to every illness is “Drink more water”. And trust me, it worked. Every single time for most of us. Have a headache. Drink water. Cramps in your legs. Drink water. Low oxygen levels or high pulse rate. Drink more water. I am taking the therapy back home 🙂

4. Sleeping under the stars

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Photo Courtesy : Mayank Aggarwal

On most evenings of the trek, it was so foggy that we never really got to see the stars. Then it happened one night. We had to start early next morning and were put off to our tents by 8 pm (no sign of any stars until then). As much as my trek leader pestered me to, I had avoided having too much water all evening to avoid waking up at night to pee (the toilet tents were atleast 150 meters away from sleeping tents and it went close to 2 degree Celsius at night). But my urinary bladder decided to act funny. It woke me up at midnight. I pulled down my sleeping bag. The cold was killing. I pulled it back up and lied down. No way was I going out in that dark cold night. The pulling down and up of the sleeping bag happened for about an hour when I realized I could no longer hold it. With all the courage I could garner, I got up, found my torch and opened the chain of my tent. It was almost like creaking of doors in horror movies with the only noises outside being that of the dog barking somewhere close by. I got out shivering, found a corner and finished my stuff. It was then while walking back that I first noticed it. It was the most beautiful sky I had ever seen. Zillions of stars. I gazed at it like a small kid. Lost in its vastness. I do not remember how long I stood watching. All I remember is when I finally squeezed myself back into the sleeping bag, I knew I was sleeping under the stars. I slept like a log.

5. Meet the Weirdos

You always end up meeting these characters anyplace you go. Especially when you are alone. Like a 55+ uncle I met in the train who had to tell me his entire life story. He later even went to the extent of asking me my salary and marriage plans. Then there was our 20 something taxi driver who drove us from Kathgoddam to base camp and played heartbreak songs for 3 hours straight. And then there were normal guys who ended up doing weird things on the trek. Like a trekker who used to unpack and repack his entire bag every night. Or the early morning discussions on which tent made the loudest snores at night. And the best one ever – a fellow trekker who had to crawl out of the toilet tent at night because the chain was faulty. As much weird as all these stories sound, looking back, they do provide for the best laughs.

6. The endurance test

I was nicknamed Eveready (batteries). Thanks to my red rain jacket and supersonic speed. However as much as I loved the climbing and hiking we did everyday of the trek, I still felt something amiss. For once, I wanted to stretch my limits to something I had never known. And it happened on the day before the last day of the trek. We had a 3 hour trek to do from Bhagwabhasa to Patar Nachauni after a nice heavy lunch. I was looking forward to a nice easy walk down the hills after the difficult hike we had in the morning. But Bisht Ji, our 47-year-old trek guide and a mountain pro who leaded from the front had his own plans. I still do not know what got into him that day, but he was literally running through the mountains. And I and a fellow trekker were adamant of not losing sight of him. The moment we used to come in a 10 feet distance to him, he’d move faster. That day, we both managed to complete the trek in 1 hr 15 mins. I was breathing heavily and my legs felt numb for a few minutes. But it was still the most satisfying day. I had passed my endurance test. Just for the record, when I finally got my red jacket off and wore my black top, my nickname had changed to Duracell.

7. The Summit happiness

Photo Courtesy : Sougata Khan

Photo Courtesy : Sougata Khan

It was like passing CA exams all over again. When you finally reach the Roopkund peak after 5 days of hiking with rains, hail and snowfall, there is a sense of satisfaction which overpowers every other feeling you’ve been through in the week. The mountains humble you. Even holding the skeletons found in the Roopkund lake and posing for pictures with it make you feel elated. 16500 feet feels closer to heaven.

8. The call of Solitude

Photo Courtesy : Bharathan Raghavan

Photo Courtesy : Bharathan Raghavan

I have never been afraid of being alone. Rather, I have always glorified solitude in every sense of the word. I’d take walks around the campsite. Read my book lying on the grass. Kneel at the small Roopkund temple and have my moment before everybody else arrived (Perks of staying ahead during the trek). All these little things gave me immense joy. During those 8 days, I do not remember once thinking of home or friends or things going on at office. And mind you, I wasn’t running away from it. I had no reason to. It is more like how my boss later put it in words for me; it’s about belonging completely to the place you are at. I did my justice to the Himalayas.

After completing 500 miles on the Appalachian trail in “A Walk in the Woods”, Bill Bryson wrote “We had grounds to be proud. We were real hikers now. We had shit in the woods and slept with bears. We had become, we would forever be, mountain men.” Me??? A mountain woman, perhaps.

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