By Kulbhushan Kain
During my lifetime, I have witnessed many disruptions that have fundamentally changed the way we live. We now live in an age where nearly every middle-class human being can and does fly, or drives a car. The days of the bicycle and walking seem to have disappeared.
A while ago, I visited my favourite hill station, Mussoorie, and was aghast to see people driving cars and scooters on what was once the beautiful Mall Road. The Mall Road was meant for walking -why don’t they walk, I wondered? Like we did when we were young, and still, do?
Unfortunately, walking and trekking in our high-speed world have fallen out of favour. “Pedestrian” is used to describe something ordinary and commonplace. However – walking is no longer ordinary and common – you hardly see anyone walking! You may think that I am a square peg in a round hole – that the world has moved beyond what it was when I was a greenhorn.
But, no – walking transcends all ages and epochs. It is still the most ancient and best modern exercise. It is also the most soul uplifting activity. Rightly, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Having flown around the world several times, I believe that flying is the unhealthiest form of movement – we stay cocooned in pressurised cabins, get food and drinks which are disastrous for health, leave and arrive at our destinations at the weirdest of hours, see no animals, open fields, mountains, villages, dhabhas … we are “above” all of them. I do understand that one can’t drive or take a train, or walk to Canada- but one can surely walk to a friend’s house in the same locality or the confectionery just round the corner. One can surely trek to Nag Tibba, Har Ki Dun, Dhanaulti…
Walking is more than just bodily exercise. When we walk – we adopt the pace of nature and as Ralph Emerson said: “Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.”
Patience is something the world desperately needs in modern times.
My tryst with walking and trekking began when I was very young. My father used to tell us, “Great things are done when men meet mountains and forests; it is not done by jostling in the street or by flying in a plane.”
The idea got reinforced in school. We were “forced” to do treks. As a trekker and later as a leader of school trekking parties, I was exposed to things that I would never have experienced otherwise. When you walk and trek, you quite literally see more. Your field of vision is nearly 180 degrees, you notice the sunrise and sunset every day; you see the monkeys congregate after a hard day’s work. Instead of adding Facebook friends online, and looking at photos on Instagram, I was making friends in person, often over a cup of hot tea or rotis and dal in distant villages. I was able to see bright twinkling stars. I could hear the incessant chirping of the birds, the howling wind, the sound of a gushing stream, and sometimes the howling of the wolves.
Life around me came alive in a new way. I can never forget a trek in the Bharmour region where I saw a man slip and fall deep into the ravine where the Ravi appeared like a thread. I strained my ears to hear the thud. I heard it faintly -life shutting a door on a careless human!
I also remember that, while on a trek to the Kolhoi Glacier beyond Gulmarg – my left knee gave way. I was stranded in the snow and realised that the way out was neither an ambulance nor someone else’s shoulder– it had to be my good knee and bad knee. I made it! When you are no longer preoccupied with asking for more and more- then you just take what is given and give what is taken. Trekking taught me how to survive.
With today’s modernised tools at our ready disposal, we should not let ourselves zoom obliviously from point A to point B on the highways of life. We must try walking the back roads of the world, where you will witness a profoundly inextricable connection with all living things.
Which is to say, don’t just “Go” through life –“Grow through life.”
Long ago, while on a trek to the Pindari Glacier we stopped for the night at a government rest house in a desolate village called Dwali. Suddenly, the weather turned for the worse and we were told that there might be a cloudburst. We were frightened to our bones. As thunder raged and as lightning repeatedly split the heavens into innumerable forks, I heard someone screaming.
I peeped out of the window and saw an ash smeared, semi-nude mystic standing in the middle of the forest – his arms akimbo, looking at the dark sky and yelling: “I know you are trying to frighten me. No, I will not get frightened because I am not afraid to die. I know you appreciate brave souls. Take me!”
He had surrendered to the Almighty and when you do that – you forsake fear.
Walking and trekking teach us to be fearless! They teach us that the ground we walk on, the plants and creatures, the clouds above constantly dissolving into new formations – each is a gift of nature possessing its radiant energy, bound together by cosmic harmony.
Walk when you are young for fitness and acquiring lessons of life. Walk when you are old to remain mobile!
Remember – the mobile phones paralyse you! At all ages.
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain @gmail.com)