What do you expect from a starry-eyed 12-year-old who had just been proposed to go on the Roopkund trek by his mother? Excitement for sure, at the prospect of going on a vacation, but nothing more. However, doubts, fear, threats from family members gave way and the trek remained at the registration stage on the Indiahikes website.
Soon the Roopkund trek became folklore as trekking on this route was no longer allowed. Indiahikes had to stop this super-duper popular trek.
Not to be deterred, a year later I tasted my first trek with IH on the Deoriatal-Chandrashila route and then there was no looking back. It was like an addiction. The entire year I read and daydreamed about Himalayan treks. I geared to trek in May – that’s the only time the school grants us a month’s leave.
Picking litter from the trail in EcoBag. Small practices that taught big life lessons. Photo by Richik Pal
I won’t speak about how awesome the treks are. Such stories abound in gallons all around the world.
I am going to tell you about how these treks changed me as a person
While on the trek, I learned five distinct lessons that will stay with me for life.
With Arjun sir and Sandhya ma’am on Har Ki Dun-Ruinsara Tal trek. Photo by Richik Pal
Lesson 1: Learn to carry your own luggage
I had offloaded my backpack during Deoriatal-Chandrashila, my first trek. But towards the tail-end of the trek, our guide Sunil Bhaiya, put me to shame for offloading my bag as he pointed to the mule who was carrying it. From this naturally follows the next lesson.
Lesson 2: Carry just what is needed
You feel each gram of extra load, be it a pair of Tees or socks, as you climb the steep slopes. This minimalistic living habit stayed with me for all other vacations.
Lesson 3: Do not waste food
Seeing the mules carrying sacks of flour and veggies to the campsites, the kitchen staff preparing hot food in the freezing temperatures and carrying drums of water from the nearest water source (even if it is a couple of kilometers down the slope) gave me the third lesson. We were encouraged to eat to our fill but not waste and I heartily agreed to it.
Lesson 4: Don’t dig the soil too deep
We were the first batch to go to Ruinsara lake via Har-ki-Dun in 2019 and had met both Arjun and Sandhya, who were documenting the route. We had to dig the uneven ground at Untigad to pitch our camps. This is where I learned my fourth lesson – not to dig too deep. Digging deep disturbs the soil setting of the place.
While decamping we stamped the soil back including the rocks that we had displaced, causing the least disturbance to the natural surroundings.
Lesson 5: Selflessness
This was the best lesson. For the first time, I was doing something for the surroundings – picking up waste discarded by people on the trail, mostly plastic wrappers, and filling them in bottles, making bottle bricks out of them.
Bottle bricks can be used for many functional and ornamental purposes. Photo by Richik Pal
I thought why not take this idea as a souvenir from the mountains to Mumbai-where I live? Well with my principal’s encouragement I started the drive in my school and the rest is history.
Bottlebricking in Mumbai
Today, Mumbai thinks twice before throwing that bit of plastic outside their doors, thanks to the BottleBricking initiative. It has been taken up by different organizations including the Swedish Academy, the UNICEF, the city schools and the suburban communities, most importantly housing societies.
Building a community of Bottle Brickers in Mumbai. Photo by Richik Pal
Though this is the 5th lesson, it is the most impactful one. It not only turned me into a crusader against plastic pollution, it influenced my friends too. They were with me on this project.
Just the other day I was talking to Karan, a team member who is no longer in my school, he said, “Richik, mujhse plastic pheka nehi jata (I cannot throw plastic anymore).” That line struck me like lightning. This is the power of the selfless work Indiahikes has ingrained in me.
Instead of throwing away plastic, stuff them in plastic bottles and use them as support. Photo by Richik Pal
I hope to bring such positive behavioral change in people with my work and make each of us responsible for our plastic waste.
As I prepare to volunteer for Green Trails in my next trek at Buran Ghati, I am a bundle of nerves thinking of the responsibilities I will carry, whether I will be doing justice to the role that I have always dreamt of.