…Aaaaaaaaand We’re Back!

April 30, 2011

The short story is that the trek was a success. We all managed to walk the distance and we all pretty much enjoyed it. The kids, of course, fussed and cribbed at various points, especially on the first two days which were all uohill. If it had been up to me, I might have relented and allowed them to be carried. Amit, in typical military style, insisted that they were not really tired yet and in the end he was right. We kept them entertained with stories and they kept walking and when we finally reached around 3.30, they assured me they didn’t want to sleep and spent the rest of the day running around as if they hadn’t done anything extra that day. Nor did they seem to have any stiffness the next day. So in the end they managed the full 27 km uphill and 27 km back without any visible stress. On the last day of walking, we kept telling the kids that there would be a taxi waiting for us at the end of the walk, to take us to Purola, so they only had to walk to the taxi. The next day, we had to take a taxi to Dehradun and Mrini woke up in the morning and asked me matter-of-factly, “Do I have to walk to the taxi today?”

Kids adjust quickly for sure. They got only mild tummy upsets from the unfiltered water from streams, full of visible insoluble things. They got only mild runny noses from changes in weather that ranged from t-shirt temperature to snow on the ground and frost in the morning temperature. And apart from that, they tolerated a new venue each day, dank, dingy rooms, unsanitary indoor and exposed outdoor toilets, and various other departures from the norm with relative calm. They got tired and end-tethered every day around 7, but that’s hardly surprising, given everything. In short, they were champions and both of us were impressed by how well they did.

I did pretty well too, considering. As treks go, this was not a difficult one. For Amit, it was a walk in the park and even for me it was in no way challenging. But this was a good thing, because it meant I could focus on the kids and most of the time I had energy enough to spare. Only once or twice did I leave them entirely to Amit while I struggled with some difficult part of the route. But, though uphill was not difficult, my knees started to complain on the steep downhill stretches. Once, while holding Mrini’s hand on a particularly steep descent, I slipped and we both landed on the ground. Neither of us got hurt, but Mrini was understandably shaken (though later she could be heard bragging about it to Tara).

The rest of the time, I managed the walk without getting stuck anywhere. The uphill parts had me gasping, but that was to be expected. By day four, I had developed fluid retention and the familiar tightness and pain in the chest were back, but a single shot of Lasix took care of that. And yes, I survived on a gluten free, lactose free diet too. While the others stuffed themselves with puri and halwa and maggi and then snacked on chocolate chip biscuits to boot, I munched on peanuts and lunched on puffed rice. Breakfast was leftovers of the previous night’s dinner. The only thing I feasted on was onion pakoras on two occasions. By the time we got back I was ready to devour a kilo of nonveg and a litre each of ice cream and beer. And, a little over 48 hours after our return to the land of electricity and hot water, I’m well on my way to achieving those goals.

So that’s the short story. There is an unedited, unabridged version, but that’s in the shape of hand-scribbled notes which it will take me some time to transcribe (and decipher). Photos, hopefully, will be available sooner.

…Aaaaaaaaand We’re Off!

April 21, 2011

Mrini woke up today and said, “We’re going to Himalayas today!”

They’ve been counting the days since the last two weeks or so. Well, truth be told, so have we.

We finally seem to have got everything done. I went to bed a little after 10.30 last night and when I woke up this morning, everything was squashed into three big backpacks and various small carry on bags. The carry on bags are a motley crew – a cloth shoulder bag for snacks like biscuits and things; a plastic bag for the kids’ toilet seat which Amit insists will be useful in Delhi; a large camera bag which, quite apart from a camera body and two lenses houses and assortment of things including spare underwear for the kids, books for the kids, a headlamp for Ballu, my precious Maglite (yes, the same one), spare batteries, and other stuff; and a pair of walking sticks which is too inconvenient to pack anywhere.

Oh and a formal strolley which has all the decent clothes we will need for our brief social stopover in Delhi on the way back. When you are travelling with two kids, you can completely forget about those wonderful words, travelling light. Light? Our luggage probably weighs more than I do! It would merit a whole extra seat on the plane, if it were a passenger. (And it would be much more inconvenient to accommodate.)

I have remembered to pack toothbrushes, rubber bands for the kids’ ponytails, and a comb. I don’t know yet what I have forgotten to pack, but I’m sure I’ll find out at some crucial juncture.

So we’re off, folks! Hopefully we will make it back in due course – in which case, you can expect several lengthy posts about all that happened and didn’t. Check this space in early May.

Three Days to Takeoff

April 18, 2011

So I got last week’s prediction half right. We did fight over how many backpacks we needed and we did drive down to Decathlon again (on Saturday, though, not on Sunday) to buy one, which we are (or rather, my better half is) now in the process of trying to make redundant.

We also got the kids raincoats, caps, gloves, and socks – all of which are fairly crucial and which we hadn’t managed to accomplish earlier. The gloves are for eight-year-olds, so they look a little ridiculous right now, but who cares? They will last a few years before the girls outgrow them, so that’s good.  The raincoats are even more ridiculous – the sleeves are at least double (maybe three times) the appropriate length, but who cares? They will keep them dry, if required, so that’s good enough. The socks appear to be knee-length, but that’s good, because their warm trousers belong to two years ago and are probably also only knee length by now. 😀 Ok, so the kids are going to look a little clownish. As long as they are warm and dry, who cares?

We haven’t completed organizing our medical supplies yet – we still need Crocin and other things. And of course we haven’t completed our packing yet – far from it. But we have assembled 90% of the stuff we need and thrown it in a jumble on the king-sized bed in the study. The bed has been covered with stuff we need ever since last weekend, though. It is still covered several inches deep. The disconcerting thing is that we have actually stuffed sleeping bags, sleeping mats, three-person tent, and loads of woolen clothes into the better part of four backpacks – and we don’t seem to have made a big dent in the mountain of stuff still covering the bed.

Regardless, after we’d finished buying all the other stuff, we went and stocked up on snacks yesterday evening. We even managed to get a good number of things that I can eat – so now life’s looking up.

Another thing that I didn’t foresee last week was that in all this melee, we’d actually have to have two lunches out. Yippee! Less cooking for me. Between 9.30 a.m. on Saturday and 5.30 p.m. on Sunday, I had a cooking holiday. I made up for it (grudgingly) by churning out two kinds of chicken on Sunday evening and doing the dosa-and-roti-and-rice routine this morning, but still – a cooking holiday is a cooking holiday and not to be sneezed at in my reckoning.

All in all, a good weekend. Nothing beats the excitement of an upcoming holiday, especially when that holiday is a trek, and especially when there are two under-fives involved. The photo in the previous post says it all. Of course, the person behind the camera should have been in the picture as well, but since he isn’t, just extrapolate the expression on three faces to the fourth face and then you’ll have the full picture.

One of those moments…

April 18, 2011

… that make everything else worthwhile.

The Twins & I

Six Days to Takeoff

April 15, 2011

My muse seems to have deserted me this week. It’s probably off catching up on its sleep. No thoughts have been swirling around in my head and no words have been flowing through my brain and out my fingers. It doesn’t help, of course, that my cook came back into my life last Saturday. After leaving me dangling for ten long days, she breezed in as if she had nothing to be apologetic about. Being the idiot that I am, I couldn’t bring myself to completely break up with her. So I told her to think things over and let me know. She took her personal belongings, returned the house key, and promised to call. She didn’t call.

So the week has been a blur of cooking. One evening, I was too zonked to cook a lot. I scraped together a fairly dreadful meal for the kids’ lunch and told Amit to order in dinner. The dal that we got so closely resembled dishwater (or ditchwater, if you prefer) that I realized even ordering in was not really an option. Certainly not at Rs 160 for two servings of yellowish dishwater.

Last weekend, we spent a delightful one hour in Decathlon, drooling over trekking equipment. In the end, we bought only one large tent (our old one being much too small for the four of us), a pair of walking sticks, two self-inflating sleeping mats, a headlamp, a pair of trekking shoes each for the kids, and a compass. There was so much more that we could have wasted time and money on.

This weekend we have to finish packing – and that starts with buying warm clothes for the kids and emergency medicines for all of us. Doubtless when we have bought and assembled everything, we will discover some vital piece of equipment without which we cannot proceed. Most likely it will be a backpack – I don’t think we have sufficient backpacks to carry everything for the four of us. So we’ll probably spend Sunday either driving down to Decathlon again, or fighting over which backpacks to take and how to reduce everything so that it fits in the available number of backpacks.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to tidy up the manuscript of my second book, so that I can send it to my publisher before we leave. I’m about two-thirds of the way through. There’s less than a week to go. And lots of cooking to be done. It’s going to be a long weekend.

You May Be Right – I May Be Crazy

April 8, 2011

…but that’s ok with me. It’s not such a bad thing, being a little bit crazy. Especially if one is crazy about the right thing.

In this particular instance, it is about trekking.

Most people know us well enough not to bother calling us crazy if they hear that we’re going off on another trek. But when they hear that our soon-to-be-five year old daughters are coming along on their first Himalayan trek ever, eyebrows (at the very least) do tend to go up.

Maybe it is a little bit crazy. But it’s probably not as crazy as you think. First, this is only a short trek – two days up, one day at the top, and two days down. Of course, we also spend two days getting there and two days getting back, but that’s on wheels, rails, and wings, so that (probably) doesn’t count as crazy. The altitude is not all that high. We start at about 6,000 ft, and the highest point is a little under 12,000 ft. The walking itself is only 5 days, one of which is a rest day. Also, on most days we won’t have to tent because there are lodges all along this route. Only on one night, we didn’t get a reservation at the lodge, so we might end up tenting for just one night. So it’s not all that crazy, see?

Of course, there’s the small matter of walking 13 km per day. And gaining 5,000 ft in two days. Are you asking me if the kids can do that? I haven’t the slightest idea – I don’t even know if I can do that. After all, it’s been four years since my last trek. This might come as something of a shock to you (especially if you’ve read my book; have you?) but I’m actually very scared of trekking. I mean, I get scared while trekking – when the dry, slippery pebbles start sliding under foot, I get terrified. I also get phobic about steep slopes and narrow paths. And heights. And descents. And boulders. And whatever else you can think of. It took me lots of practice to get my various fears under control, but now it’s been a gap of four years and I have no idea how much I might have regressed.

Of course I should be doing something to prepare. I should be working on my leg muscles. I should be improving my cardio-vascular fitness. I’m not really doing anything. I’m going to be in so much trouble. And, on top of everything else, I’m going to starve! Because I can’t eat most of the emergency food that we carry – biscuits, cake, bread, Maggi – and my lactose intolerance is also at its most intolerant in the mountains, so I can’t even have coffee, or even a good dose of ghee in my khichadi – not unless I want to risk diarrhea, which is not the best thing to have when on a trek.

And then I have to worry about the kids. I honestly have no idea if they will take to it – the whole wilderness experience. Will they enjoy doing nothing but walking the whole day long? They love to talk and they love to get the undiluted attention of their parents and they are very active all day long. At least I can be sure they won’t miss TV or battery-operated toys (they don’t have any). But will they enjoy the walk? How much will they be able to walk? Will they last the entire trek or will we have to abort after day 1? Will they be enthralled by the views and the sheer novelty of being in the mountains? Or will they start whining “I’m bored; I’m hungry; I’m tired; you carry me…” within the first 20 minutes and keep it up the whole damn day?

If they do get tired, will they agree to be carried? By a porter? In a sack? Will they (horrors!) both want to hang on to my hand and walk – on a narrow, slippery path with a steep fall on one side???

Worse still, what if I get petrified along the way and one of the kids has to come and hold my hand and pull me along? What kind of role model is that?

Sigh. Problems, problems…

But at least we are going back to the mountains. At one point, I doubted I ever would. If this works… there could be so much more to look forward to in the coming years. 🙂

Canine Update

April 6, 2011

I have been shamed by my kids into reconsidering my relationship with street dogs.

Sadly, they had understood that dogs are for being stoned. Now you all know that I don’t actually stone the street dogs. I do throw a few stones in their direction when their barking and yelping becomes completely unbearable, but it’s mostly with the intention of driving them away, rather than with the intention of actually hurting them. But then again – when I wake up at 3 a.m. and am unable to go back to sleep for 45 minutes because they are barking themselves hoarse right outside my window, I have to admit that I do wish them dead.

And that’s a terrible thing. It’s not something I can keep from the kids either. They know what that little collection of stones in my room is for. Stones are for throwing at dogs; dogs are for being stoned.

That’s not what I want to teach them. I want them to know and love dogs, the way I do. Did.

I started damage control by just talking to them, telling them that dogs are basically nice and I don’t really stone them, I just want them to stop barking. Then a couple of weeks ago, Mrini declared that she wanted to make friends with one of the many street dogs that hang around outside our house. One particular dog has always been extra friendly towards us, despite getting absolutely nothing in return. So when Mrini said she wanted to pat the dog, I thought I’d let her. Of course that I meant I’d have to pat the dog as well. And since Mrini wanted to pat the dog on his rump, I had to show her the proper way of doing it. Offer a hand for the dog to sniff, then pat him on the head.

Mrini and the dog – whom we now call Socks, on account of the white on the tips of his feet – have since become friends. Socks knows that if Mrini is around he should come over for a chat. I think Socks knows that of the two kids, only one is his friend and that he also knows that the kid is more of a friend than the adults. Anyway, he comes fairly promptly for his petting. It is really quite heartwarming to see – Mrini delightedly talking to the dog, reaching her hand out and letting him sniff it (which she does every time, rather like shaking hands with him) and then leaning forward to pat him on the head while he squints his eyes, smiles, and wags his tail.

Tara is happy to watch. She has said several times that she would like to pat Socks too, but when the time comes, she hangs back. Both of them keep an eye on Socks from upstairs, though, and shout out if they can spot him anytime during the day.

Socks has three particularly bosom buddies – Spotty (because he has spots, which could be mange); Patchy (because he has patches); and Tallboy (because he’s tall, of course – though he also has spots and patches). Patchy is a particularly suspicious-looking creature. He looks a bit like a pirate because of a black patch over one eye, and his small, bright, beady eyes don’t look as friendly as Socks’ melting brown eyes. Plus, Patchy has a patch on his rump which is hairless – either mange, or the result of an injury, possibly in a fight. Altogether a rakish and unprepossessing looking fellow. Tallboy is a little intimidating just because he’s so tall and rangy.

The other day, I was leaving for work when all four of them came up to me. The kids had already left with Amit, so I was on my own. The four canines came and stood in front of me, tails wagging, eyes shining, teeth bared in friendly grins. Socks stood waiting to be patted, but Patchy went a step further and tried to put his paws up on me. Of course I didn’t let him do that (it would probably ruin my nice formal light-grey trousers – I know where all those grimy paws have been!) but I did spend a few minutes chatting with all of them. For a few minutes, they felt like old friends.

I still get boiling mad when they spend all night barking under my window, though.

Sigh. If Facebook had a status for “relationship with dogs” mine would now be set to “it’s complicated”.

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