Sunday, March 25, 2018

I said yes to a challenge and my world changed forever

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Have you ever found yourself wondering how Edmund Hillary or Tenzing Norgay might have felt a few seconds before they conquered Everest?

I don't claim to have done anything remotely as momentous as they did. Of course. But I said yes to a challenge - I volunteered to do something totally uncharacteristic of me, something I always thought I wasn't cut out for - and I saw magic unfold. It changed my world, it changed the way I look at travel, and it changed my worldview forever. Most important, it changed the way I look at myself.

I have been travelling for some years now, and have experienced many a new culture, met many a stranger, and dealt with many a challenge on the move. But I recently came to the uncomfortable realisation that I've stayed within my comfort zone most of this time. I was strutting through new places, wonderful new experiences, and the company of fascinating strangers, wearing the thick coat of a hundred limitations and boundaries wrapped tightly around me.

I found that I had been travelling without really challenging myself. And I decided to change that. I decided to challenge all the notions I had about my physical limitations, and joined a group of friends and strangers on an out-and-out adventure trip to Uttarakhand. There, I stayed in a tent in below-zero-degree weather for two nights, embarking on the very first morning on an arduous trek of 5 kilometres through snow, ice and slippery slopes, up to Tungnath Temple.

I had so many misgivings! I was afraid I would slip and fall down the snow slopes. I was afraid I would twist my ankle or have a hard fall on ice. I was afraid I would suffer from breathlessness (there's precedent) and would have to stop halfway and return to camp. There was just so much I thought could go wrong. But I steeled myself, and I said 'yes' to the spirit of adventure. And then magic happened.

I made it to the top - in one piece, with no injuries and no regrets - and then came that moment, as I approached the temple at the end of the trail, when I began to understand how Hillary and Norgay must have felt.

I left liberated - from my own thought-up boundaries and from all those years of body-shaming and the constant reminders of my physical shortcomings. I felt free of my physical and psychological limitations. All of a sudden I knew I could do this. If I could climb a mountain, I could very well swim the ocean or jump off of a cliff. I felt an energy course through my body. I felt limitless.

Riding on that adrenaline rush, I went on to try my hand at river rafting on the same trip (and can proudly claim I rafted through 'The Wall', known as the most challenging rapid on the Rishikesh rafting circuit). I also went alpine skiing and trekked uphill through the forest in Auli a couple of days after Tungnath. On the climb downhill, I got talking to my ski instructor, Pavan, and discovered a new perspective on the Himalayan ecology and the different ways in which global warming is affecting it, as also the local economy and people's lives. We talked about our differing experiences of the Himalayas and of Delhi, where he had worked for 5 years, and through him, I also learned the local sentiment regarding tourists. Guess what I found? They don't hate us! As long as we are responsible, respectful, and open to the beauty and serenity of the mountains and nature, they love us and are indeed thankful for our presence. 😄

Rafting in Rishikesh Uttarakhand
I said yes to rafting, and to jumping into the water (I don't know how to swim!)

Skiing in Auli, mini Switzerland of India
Me and my 'Blizzard' skis.

Through all of this, I discovered one thing.

When you are open-minded and say yes to new experiences and challenges, you unveil whole new sides to the world and to yourself. With every new peak you conquer, every new language you learn, and every new culture you experience, you become a better version of yourself. And you begin to love the world a little more. The more of the world you'll see, believe me, the more you will WANT TO see. It's a never-ending circle, but a virtuous one for sure. Tungnath may have been an easy trek, but it felt like a personal Everest to me. And now that I have conquered it, I want to do more, see more, climb more, and travel ever more. Do I sound insane? But aren't the maddest people also often the most sorted and sane?

This trip, and all the discoveries I made with it, have spurred me on to try more adventure, turn more strangers into friends, and explore newer pastures. In fact I am already planning my next trip - SOLO this time. So much more discovery in the offing, I can't wait!

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As always, keep travelling the world and spreading the love! 💚


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