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Isha Singh Sawhney

Isha Singh Sawhney is a writer, musafir and obsessive people watcher. She loves seeing new places and hates leaving them.

Notes from a trek: How to go over those mountains

or those of you reading who are wondering where I have been for the last month (and I am going to flatter myself and assume there are many who are reading as well as many missing me), I was up a mountain. Or, well, many mountains, in the Nanda Devi biosphere, climbing and descending to get closer to those majestic, mystical, often elusive snow-capped peaks.

Back in the city, it felt like a travelogue would have been obvious. And (see point number 14), I don't feel a diary entry of My First Ever Trek is required anywhere but a high school English class.

​However, there were no lack of spiritually ​enlightening moments for my fellow trekkers and me, on those seven hour uphill hikes; mostly fueled from a lack of oxygen. And it would be criminal not to share these ruminations with other novice and expert trekkers.

1. Hydrate. Layer. Sunscreen. Compass.

2. Always, always break in your trekking boots.

3. No matter what brands such as REI, Salmon and Decathlon tell you, heavy duty hiking shoes are not always the answer. Often, a light pair of running shoes is all you need.

4. Shattering one popular novice belief — going uphill is always more fun. Because that downhill canter you think you have perfected into a trot is wreaking havoc on your knees. Old and young alike.

5. Pace yourself. This isn't a race to the top. Well, unless it is.

6. Carrying your backpacks is almost like a life lesson in learning to rid yourself of baggage.

7. One pair of socks can last you a shockingly long time. And when you're turning them inside out after day three, four and five, you learn not to judge the boys at boarding school whose dirt-encrusted socks could stand on their own.

8. Stuff (read "you") always smells worse in the plains.

9. A pat and dry with one mug of water in minus zero is much more rewarding that a full-fledged rainwater shower in warmer climes.

10. Watch where you squat. Stinging nettle is no fun, especially on your bum.

11. A packet of wet wipes can go a long way.

12. As can blister packs. And always preempt blisters before they go out of hand, or foot.

13. Many of life's lessons are scripted in books and movies, and meditation camps. But it's when you're walking non-stop for hours, your mind numb, your focus far from taking in the absolutely breathtaking landscapes around you, that some earth-shattering realisations come to you. "I am not as young/fit/agile as I thought I was", "I need to leave my husband", "Maybe I should trek more often", "I am free from the baggage of whatever it was that made me embark on this trek", "I should find a new job", "I hate my boss"...

14. That, however, doesn't mean there's a book in every self-discovery mid-20s trek you do.

15. Farts are kosher, but stealing someone's trail mix isn't. Or wasting your own trail mix.

16. Wherever you go, however far you go, the Bengalis would have already conquered that peak. Or always be at that peak.

17. A hiking stick will be your best friend.

18. Your second-best friend will be water in a pouch on your back. Camel-style.

19. And your third-best friend is probably going to be that extra sleeping bag you carried.

20. Yet, as hectic as you are or were about buying and collecting all your fancy bank-breaking equipment —hydration pack, trekking stick, soft-shell jacket, sunglasses that protect you from more stuff than a black-cat commando (UV protected, blue light protection, polarised) — there will always be someone walking or trekking sans any of the fanciness. Clad just in a muffler, using a half-litre pet bottle to hydrate and a wooden stick as support. Oh, must not forget a pair of Action/Bata sneakers or floaters.

21. If there's one thing you learn on a trek, it's that you can pack light.

22. The other thing you learn is to pack and unpack in the smallest, darkest, coldest of spaces, and fit a lot into Ziploc bags, and do it with impressive speed and accuracy.

23. Food items you hate on regular days in the plains will be god-sent delicacies on a trek.

24. Sticking to the trail is good sensible advice, but when you do stray (supervised), you discover where nature's most beautiful secrets are hidden.

25. Leave your ego behind. You can never win against nature.

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