A Trek Leader Observes: Selfies Are Cocaine

Trekker 1: *Jumps*

Trekker 2: *Clicks Photo On Phone*

Trekker 1: *Runs toward Trekker 2*

*Both look into the mobile screen*

T1: This is no good. My eyes are closed.

T2: Haan, also, see the left leg is too close to the ground.

*Repeat several times until it’s time to leave the summit*

Me: Oh a photo where you’re in mid-air and there’s a view (say, oh I don’t know – a lake?) in the background? Wow that is not cliche at all, like I’ve never seen this on social media before, nope.

Here we are, on a seemingly endless high meadow. Barring a clump of oak, and a few jutting cliffs of bare brown rock, there is nothing but grass on this shelf. Below us, we are surrounded by forested hills, and they are criss-crossed by valleys, and the mist that fills them glows when the late-morning sunlight filters through it. And these hills change colour, from brown-green into black, white and grey, and they shoot upwards, as we take our gaze away into the horizon.

On the horizon, these hills are turned into the high Himalayas. From northwest to southeast, the Yamunotri and Gangotri ranges. The skyline of the gods. The mountains are beautiful. Everything in this place (and the places we trekked through over the past two days) is surreal. The mist, the sky, the glimmer of sunlight on distant ice. The call of a hidden bird. The rustle of the oak trees in the breeze. The sound of a startled pheasant, bolting into the woods.

View from Brahmatal summit. Photo by Jugal Dhimar

I could go on, but I’m getting somewhat self-conscious of my own eloquence.

My point is that these places are full of great beauty and great subtlety. I really like it when trekkers are struck, rendered speechless, and just really moved by what they see. And they often are. I see it in their eyes, I see it in their faces, that they’re engaging with nature, taking a moment to just be. Away from cellphone networks, away from family, right here in the wilderness. I’m very happy that I can be part of this moment.

But increasingly, there are groups who get photo-fever.

The anxiety is what I notice first. It is as if they are worried that they’ll leave this place without the best possible photo that they could have taken. So how do they combat this photo-FOMO? They take photos all the time, as many as they can, from as many angles as they can. Of themselves, mind you.

You can really hear the stress in their voices. We reach the summit and this group that I am thinking of, their hands would go automatically in their pockets. Myths, local legends and nature be damned, their selfie-game (or groupfie-game) needed to be on point.

“Take one from here!”
“And one from there!”
“Let’s raise our hands! No! Let’s dab”
“LAAAME, I’m not dabbing”
“OK fine, just raise your hands then”
“Hey take mine, all of you leave this place”
“From here?”
“No, the lighting is odd, maybe there?”
“Ok ok, just take one anyway, then take from there also”
“OK now just one us. Where is Geeta [random name]? Geeta!” “GEEEETA!!”
“COME HERE, We’re trying to take a photo”
“OK wait, let me take a selfie and then I’ll come”

Here, in the midst of the mountains, the urgency and stress contained in my trekkers’ voices seems very out of place. The need for photos is intense, it is overpowering. It is weird to see them, young people, middle-aged people – both being driven by the hand of social media. Driven by that need, they are oblivious of their surroundings. Leave aside engaging nature or listening to local tales, I’m more worried that they will fall off the freaking cliff.

Oh, and I notice that their poses are contrived to exude peace – meditating, staring into the distance alone, sitting on the cliff-edge looking thoughtful. Also, here they are shouting and twitching with selfie-fever, and then much later their Facebook caption says ‘#Silence’, ‘#Peace’.

BRO, what IRONY.

By behaving like this, we’ve changed what a trek feels like. Instead of a continuous and relaxed experience, a place for personal growth, we now have a series of selfie-spots that one must get to (with some difficulty) and exploit. #MuchWow. #Amaze. #MountainsAreCalling.

I resolved to tell people to stop moving and sit themselves the hell down for ten minutes at each summit.

No talking, no photos, nothing. I don’t like doing it – it makes me feel like a taskmaster, but I’ve got no choice. At least the non-selfie-takers get some peace in this way.

Like I said, this is my opinion. There’s no moral high ground for not liking selfies, or taking less photos. But there are other advantages. You observe. You explore your own mental response upon sight of these mountains. You see birds. You notice the little things, the ones I wrote about in the first paragraph. You appreciate the fact that you might not come here again. You make conversation with your fellow trekkers, people you might not see again. These little things help me remember each trek better.

Absorbing in the views on the Kuari Pass trek. Photo by Aditya Ganpule

So next time you go on a trek, impose a rule upon yourself. If you must take photos, do so silently, and maybe limit your selfies/groupfies to, say two a day? See what happens. If you feel discomfort – analyze it. Why do you feel this discomfort? What exactly is it that you want of the selfies, that is causing you to neglect the subtler aspects of this journey that we call a trek?


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4 thoughts on “A Trek Leader Observes: Selfies Are Cocaine

  1. I too like taking photos when i reach an out of world place, but rarely ever i am in the frame. As i may never again be coming there, and my memory is too low capacity to absorb all the details for ever, I need a tool to enable me live those moments again, and again, and again. I do soak in the surroundings, not only once at that time, but a million times again later, sitting alone with photos that transport me again to that moment.

  2. While the article is hilarious, it certainly is a reality I’ve encountered on a few treks. I glad that someone is thinking of imposing a ” silent moment” rule, even if it is for a few minutes.
    The anxiety that i feel when around such beautiful vistas, is the fear that my memory will fail me. The richness of the moment, smells, sounds, colours..the whole experience, would dull n fade when i go into a flashback mode… Hence the photos. Unfortunately…photos rarely do justice to the experience of “now”.
    Therefore, I’ve limited the number of photos I click on a trek. After all, once we are back, there will be plenty of sharing…better to experience the moment, which is so rare that one should take it as a blessing to have had it.

  3. I wanted to start my response with the statement “I don’t agree with this” but who am I to not to agree to anyone’s opinion?

    However, I am entitled to have an opinion of my own. Here is what I think about the article.

    I will begin with the title itself. Selfies are cocaine! Is this a joke? Isn’t this a bit extreme to compare the simple act of taking pictures/selfie as some drug addiction?

    All humans are psychologically addicted to something in their life and there is nothing wrong with it as long as our actions don’t cause trouble to others. We all love different things, some of us may like TV & Entertainment, games, social media, music, books, traveling, trekking etc. The difference is in the interest and likeability. Some may do it on an extreme level but that doesn’t mean that they are addicted, and it is certainly not fair to be compared as some cocaine addict.

    I am a frequent traveler. I love going to new places, experiencing new cultures, meeting people and telling those stories to my family and friends. I take pictures/selfies because I love to save all the moments of my life and especially the places that I might not have another chance to visit again.
    Because Moments fleet and time passes quickly and landscapes changes constantly for our eyes. Pictures/Selfies are great way to hold on to memories.
    It doesn’t mean that people travel to mountains just for pictures/selfies. People travel for the experience and they enjoy that experience in their own way. So, who are you to judge what is the trekker’s voice? Everyone enjoys nature differently and there is no reason to imply our choice of interest as the voice of people or a group.
    I love travelling, I love mountains, I love trekking, and I love taking tons of pictures/selfies while I am on a trek and that’s how I enjoy it. Who are you to compare my choice as cocaine? Who are you to tell that I am on a stress? How do you know that I am not engaged with the beauty of mountains and nature?
    I think the person who wrote this article need to self-analyze that not everyone is entitled to enjoy the trekking the same way as he does. Its not in the rule book.
    When people spend money and time, they might want to do what makes them happy because it is their right and no one has say in it.

    1. I think point here wasn’t ‘not to take the selfies’. Even when I personally don’t take pictures of mine, I see this can be good way to capture the moment which can be re-lived later again and again.

      But being so obsessed with selfies and being stressed to get the location vacant for the perfect picture then struggling for the best angle and pose and then being upset on not getting what you wanted.
      I have also seen people exchange the words in this struggle, after all who doesn’t want the best background for long enough time.

      These can take too much time and energy while capturing the best scenes through the lenses, we focus little less in enjoying it (if we don’t ignore that at all).

      What I have learned from all little travel I had, We always run short of time while seeing – observing – understanding – enjoying – Living the surrounding. In such case, limiting ourselves, in my opinion is not the bad idea.

      And when we had enough re-thinking about our interest, have you seen those – always smiling introverts. Who always seem to be comfortable in all those little noise. Many of them would have come there taking a break from the city life for peace and nature! They may not express them selves but they should also be allowed to enjoy just like selfies should be allowed.

      We may not see it or may not feel it that intense, but the Addiction is real.