Sutirtha Sanyal

Treks,day hikes and bush-craft

The allure of the mountains is difficult to overcome, especially for those living on the coasts or the plains.  Some prefer to unwind in the salubrious confines of a resort tucked far away on a mountain top amid a thick forest of fir and spruce, away from all human contact except for the tell-tale signs of luxury and comfort – a fireplace, a king-size bed, a Jacuzzi, a fine rack of the choicest of wines and brandy to sip through in the evening amid the patter of raindrops or drifting snowflakes, and windows and balconies that open to views of lofty snow-clad peaks and sparkling blue rivers – and any other opulence one would typically find in a star-rated accommodation with a daily tariff running into five digits.

Some, on the other hand, prefer to experience the grandeur of the mountains in its rawest form by the way of camping, trekking or an expedition running into weeks or months.

Each has its own set of charms and connoisseurs. But we are not here to debate on the merits or the demerits of one over the other! We will simply decode the essence of camping and trekking for a first timer and why and how one could develop it as a serious hobby.

So, for a start, what does one mean by trekking?

To most, trekking would mean hiking across the hills with a backpack and snuggling up in a warm sleeping bag inside a tent as night comes calling.  But there is more than that.

Trekking is among the easiest of ways for an amateur to explore the mountains in its purest and pristine form. Add more layers of difficulty to your exploration, and your adventure would then qualify as mountaineering and/or a high-altitude trekking expedition, which in turn would require considerable expertise on your part to accomplish it.

But trekking is unlike anything of that sort. Unlike mountaineering, it does not require specialised skills; anybody with average physical fitness can go on treks.

Then the question arises, what is the need to go out on treks when one can enjoy the splendour of the mountains from the window of a star-rated villa in the mountains.

Well, camping in the open meadow by the banks of a turquoise lake, or, in the thick woods amid a sparkling brook has its own beauty, and its takers are more than willing to spend days in the open and experience a sliver of that offering which they won’t find in the concrete blocks in their cities.

Of course, there’s the added benefit of rejuvenating the body, which no amount of running on the treadmill can provide.

From a purely health perspective, trekking strengthens your heart, as it has to pump more blood to your muscles and brain. That way, it keeps your heart young and healthy. The increased oxygen supply to your lungs purifies it of toxins and bad air. Trekking strengthens your bones and muscles, and lastly, it keeps you stress free and adds a new perspective to your daily workout routine. You get to see new places, taste new food, meet other like-minded people, and enjoy life. You get rid of anxiety and become calmer, as the natural beauty unfolds around you. It soothes your mind.

Mentally, you become more strong and relaxed. At times, you might have to cook your own food, fetch your own water, and set up your own camp. All these activities will make you more confident and less dependent on others.

Besides, trekking or any other adventure forges bonds between the participants like nothing else.

You might have known your colleague for five years, but adventure will show you one facet of his life which you would have never seen or imagined before. Small gestures and acts in trying times reveal the true self of a person – selfish, helpful, indifferent, brave, courageous, a born leader or a fair-weather friend.

Little wonder, management institutes and corporate organisations are now incorporating treks and day hikes as part of their outbound leadership programmes.

Put simply, what we now term as a trek or a day hike into the wild was nothing, but a part of the daily routine of our ancestors, as they foraged the hills and forests for food and shelter. Sometimes, these hunting and food-gathering expeditions could run into days or even a week, and they would then have to depend on the forest resources for food, shelter and medicine.

We also knew all that and the life-saving skills of our ancestors, but forgot them as we took to the city life. That is why several countries in the West, and South Africa and Australia, which follow a predominantly western style of life, courtesy the British colonisation, have Boy Scout programmes modelled on bushcrafting and woodcraft.

It’s all about preparing the young ones for the hardships of life and the ways of the wild, whether or not the boy grows up to be a forester or a banker.

In the rural India of today, it is not difficult to find households with the same amenities that one would find in his or her home in the city. But what a 10-year-old village boy or girl will also know are the valuable lessons in wilderness skills and survival, passed down from father to son and daughter through generations, irrespective of his cultural and financial background.

Little wonder, if a city-bred boy and another boy of his age from a village finds themselves stranded on a mountain or an island, the latter will be better equipped mentally to deal with the situation and bring back both safely home.

As a nation, we should ensure that our city-bred boys and girls do not turn up as caricatures of comic strips who only know how to navigate the virtual world of smart-phones and social media. That is something we must avoid at all cost. But before we ask our children to take to the woods, it’s time we took the initiative to a healthy lifestyle through treks, day hikes and bush-crafting.

Welcome to the wonderful life of treks, day hikes and bushcraft.

Sutirtha Sanyal

A former journalist, Sutirtha Sanyal now runs his own adventure programmes and outdoor skills training camps in the Himalayas for individuals and groups as well.

He can be reached at silverhein@gmail.com

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