Sarat Moka is currently pursuing a PHD in Applied Mathematics in Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. But unlike the reclusive, Mad Mathematician trope that is often portrayed in popular culture, Trek Leader Arvind found Sarat to be a very warm and helpful person.
“One of the reasons why Sarat really stood out for me is that although he was a fast trekker, he always kept an eye on the group members who were left far behind and clearly struggled with the trek. He actually walked with them for a certain distance and kept motivating them,” says Arvind.
“We really appreciate trekkers like this because even though they don’t realise it, they end up becoming an invaluable member of the trek organising team. It’s not always possible for us trek leaders and guides to juggle ourselves with the entire group. So when a trekker assumes such responsibilities, our resources can be spread uniformly and we can look into the needs of all our trekkers,” he adds.
Making the climb easier
Sarat feels that walking with struggling trekkers is essential to give them the much needed confidence to complete the stretch mapped out for a particular day.
“Weak trekkers tend to feel demotivated easily as they can’t really enjoy the views along the trail and are absorbed in their struggle and the ensuing exhaustion. They end up walking alone and it becomes an even more disappointing experience for them. I have noticed that when you accompany them for a while, tell them a few jokes to make them smile and just engage them otherwise, it draws their focus away from the arduous nature of the trek and they actually fare better afterwards,” says Sarat.
Parul Chachra is one such trekker who benefitted from a little game Sarat devised to draw her attention away from the difficulties of her climb.
“On day 3 of the Kuari Pass trek, while we were trekking from Akhrodmat to Khullara, I was walking towards the end as I was feeling quite weary by then,” says Parul.
“Sarat immediately noticed my struggle and just walked beside me. He told me that we would play a counting game. I would have to count till ten and take that many steps accordingly and he would take up the next ten numbers after a five second break. We kept taking turns in counting and taking steps as per the numbers and I didn’t even realise how an hour went by. I felt much stronger and more confident by then,” says Parul.
“For his kind of fitness and agility he could have easily gone ahead, but he chose to walk behind with us and motivate us. It was not just me, he helped many struggling trekkers. Being a photographer, he even asked them to smile in order to take their mind off the trek.”
Undying love for photography
Photography and painting, are the two other passions this Mathematician has and he insists that nature indeed nurtures these passions even further. “I love photographing the routes of every trail while I trek. It is one of the reasons I like to lag behind for a while because you get to view the trail in its entirety. So in a way I should thank my co-trekkers at the back, because they gave me company while I clicked pictures,” says Sarat.
Kuari Pass – A photographer’s dream!
According to Sarat, the Kuari Pass Trek is one of the best treks a Photographer can ask for. “I could capture the twin snow covered peaks of Hathi Goda. I also got to click a long exposure shot of our tents aglow with torch lights against the backdrop of mountains. That’s something I have always wanted to do,” says Sarat.
“There is just so much beauty you get to witness along these trails. Sometimes, I feel like even my lens can’t do justice to them. I was particularly fascinated by the wondrous oak trees you get to see during this trek. Most people are unaware of this, but they support an entire ecosystem in their branches. It’s an entire world up there with varieties of grass, algae and lichen. I certainly know what my next painting is going to be about.”
A deep sense of connect with the trail
Sharat also harbours a strong connection with the mountains, something that Trek Leader Arvind looks for in his trekkers.
“I feel that as a trekker, you can’t just come to the mountains and experience your surroundings like a tourist. You need to forge a connection with the magnificent slopes. Sarat always spoke about the mountains with a twinkle in his eye. He also possessed a lot of knowledge about them, which is rare. But it was on the last day that I picked up on his strong bond with the mountains,” recollects Arvind.
On the summit day, as they were scaling up towards Kuari Pass, they passed by Pangarchulla campsite. While all the trekkers followed the main route to reach the pass, Arvind, Sarat and another trekker decided to take a different, more challenging route before joining the group. “We chanced upon this large rock that was hewn out of the mountain itself and jutted out like a ledge of sorts. We all just sat there, lost in our thoughts,” says Sarat.
“When I noticed Sarat, he had a look of absolute serenity on his face as he silently watched the mountains around us. I knew that he had disconnected from everything else and was lost to the unparalleled beauty of the mountains. I personally know how wonderful the feeling is,” says Arvind.
“The time I spent on the rock is something I will treasure forever, perhaps even more than my award and I am so thankful to Arvind for that beautiful memory. I felt like this tiny ant in the midst of such gigantic peaks and yet being such a miniature being by comparison, I was still able to get up there. I endured the test of nature, trekked through wild, overgrown jungles, scaled past rough, unfriendly boulders, resisted the dangerous lure of the chill temperatures and that made me feel like I could conquer life. It was a huge feeling of achievement and I feel I can bring the same mentality to work once I return to the city,” says Sarat.
Happy to help
For being such an asset to the Indiahikes team during the 8th May, 2017, Kuari Pass Trek and for his genuine connection with the mountains, Sarat was awarded the Spirit of Trekking Award.
“I have lead quite a few night treks down south and I strongly feel that helping out one another is a very organic part of trekking. The interactions you have with people on the mountains is starkly different from the usual social interactions we are accustomed to in the cities. Even giving someone a gentle reminder to take sips of water, take micro-steps while walking or just giving them company for a bit when they are feeling exhausted goes a long way.
“These are real, genuine, simplistic ways of reaching out to another human being,” concludes Sarat.