In the year 2009, on World Earth Day, my son Samyak was born. Growing up, his love for nature proved that this wasn’t a mere coincidence. Sports was his second love. Samyak enjoyed every second he spent in the outdoors. When he wasn’t running out in the wild, you would find him swimming.
Being an Indian child studying in USA, his only link with India was through television. Indian mythology fascinated him and he was always eager to hear stories.
Shiva was his favorite deity. Once he even performed a Shiva Tandav dance on stage!
His fascination for Shiva and love for nature made me consider trekking in Indian Himalayas as something that would interest him immensely. My friend Shailendra recommended Indiahikes as the best trekking organisation in India. I browsed through their website and the Tarsar Marsar trek caught my eye. I registered for myself and my son immediately.
Our journey to India began on 23rd July. Our six week vacation was power packed with activities. I was confident of his endurance since he could swim for hours together with perfect strokes.
However, this would be his first time trekking and that was a concern.
We did a few day treks around Pune like the Torna Fort trek and Sinhagad Fort trek. At Sinhagad fort, he asked me: “Dad, am I a good trekker?”
I told him that he would be if he could wake up at 5 am the next morning. And he did! His enthusiasm gave me confidence in his unrelenting determination to trek.
Unfortunately, the political situation in Kashmir was unsafe and our trek got cancelled. We were disappointed but I did not want to give up on our trekking goals. I booked for the Valley of Flowers trek in Uttarakhand.
We had traveled a lot in the first two weeks of our vacation. Pune to Govind Ghat would be another long journey. So I was a little concerned about Samyak.
On the day of our flight, I was engrossed with packing when Sam asked if he could play with his friends. As soon as he left, I felt uneasy. Minutes later, he came back to me with an injured knee. It was an anxious moment. Would he be able to walk? Would our trek get cancelled yet again? I boarded our flight with a heavy heart and prayers on my lips.
The journey was long! A three hour flight from Pune to Delhi, then seven hour train journey from Delhi to Haridwar and finally 13 hours from Haridwar to Govind Ghat in a cab. Sam was writhing in discomfort.
The overnight travelling, hunger and sleeplessness was taking it’s toll. To top it all, he had a knee injury.
I couldn’t help but question my intentions of encouraging my son to trek. Would these harsh conditions dishearten him? Would he lose his love for trekking and for the Himalayas? Would he complain about being pushed to do too much?
With these disturbing thoughts, we continued to travel.
Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional
Sam had been travelling without rest. From the comforts of his mom’s arms I brought him to struggle and learn. India was an enigma to him. The noisy trucks and honking vehicles were all new sights. He asked me questions that I found difficult to answer. Why do people spit on the road? Why do they break traffic rules? They were endless.
I wanted to show him Incredible India but things weren’t going too well. He was getting a wrong picture of India. Luckily for me, we reached the mountains soon enough. However, even this came with new troubles. The hairpin bends and rough turns made our journey extremely uncomfortable. Sam began throwing up.
He was exhausted. Somehow I was able to manage his frustration and able to motivate him. At the end of the road, he fell asleep. After meeting the Trek Leader Tanmay Bain, I went off to sleep as well with a thousand questions buzzing in my mind..
Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory
The next morning started on a sad note. Sam woke up with a swelling knee. He was in pain. However, he wanted to walk. Krishna, who was our help staff, seemed confident about Sam’s ability to do the trek. He suggested that we let him walk as far as he could. And it was a miracle!
The pace at which Sam walked gradually improved. We found great friends in other trekkers – Shailesh, Sunil and Sujal. The view of rivers and the beautiful surroundings was motivating Sam. In no time, he was leading from the front.
Indiahikes not only promotes treks but also spreads awareness on caring for Mother Nature. We were a part of the
Green Trails initiative. Sam was very impressed with this initiative. He was not able to bend his knees so I carried both our bags. He was the ringmaster- instructing me to pick every bit of garbage on the way. At one point, he found a safety pin on trail. Coincindentally, we needed one to keep his pants in place. “Look dad!” he said. “Shiva sent this to me!” It was a small incident but it built his trust in God.
After putting the safety pin on his trouser, he was able to walk comfortably. He was unstoppable now! Even after 13 km of trekking, his energy levels were so impressive! I got great support from fellow trekkers and Sam connected with them too.
Back at the base, we fell asleep in peace. The world outside our window was an absolutely magical place.
A strong man stands for himself and stronger man for others
Sam enjoyed his journey towards the Valley of Flowers by watching different plants and understanding them. We crossed a river and began a stiff climb on a narrow path. This showed his real endurance. He began complaining about headache. I was worried about Acute Mountain Sickness. We drank plenty of water and prayed to Lord Shiva for energy. Flowers carpeting the valley floors and their sweet aroma was an another boost.
Four hours later, Sam was one of the last trekkers to reach. I used this situation to teach him about the ups and downs in life regardless of the effort we put in. Finally, we reached the valley and had a filling lunch. Sam was in no mood to go ahead. So we sat down and chatted for a while. Finally, at 1 PM, we started for the base camp. Thankfully, the descent wasn’t challenging.
He climbed up my shoulders and I carried him. “A strong man stands for himself and stronger man for others” he said. This was a line from “Barnyard”, his favourite show. He was using this line to show his appreciation. We reached Ghangaria around 6 pm and got some rest. Sam did not complain. Not once did he whine about anything. He entertained fellow trekkers with a power-packed dance performance in the night. For the first time, after four nights of restlessness, I slept well that night. It was a relief to know that my son was fine.
When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on
Next morning was pleasant. We started with confidence toward Hemkund Sahib. Sunil was with Sam to motivate him. During the climbing, Kshitija didi fell sick. We gave her medicines but she wasn’t willing to offload her backpack. Sam got nervous seeing her condition. However, Kshitija was persistent and our trek lead Tanmay was an expert at handling such situations. Sam’s confidence began to waver and before long, he was complaining of severe headache.
Birupaji and I decided to take turns to carry Sam. Trekking is team work. It is not race and finally, it is the mountains who conquer us. Standing at an altitude of 14,000 feet, at the highest gurudwara in the world, Sam was elated with his accomplishment. He will never forget the lessons he learnt from this trek.
He rode a mule down hill for a few kilometers but was uncomfortable. “I won’t be a true trekker if I don’t walk” he said and got off the mule. He walked the rest of the day. We reached the base camp at around five in the evening. Here we faced a new issue. His body was covered in red patches. Trek Leader Tanmay gave him medication for acidity.
The news spread at the camp within a few minutes and soon his well-wishers surrounded him. Having spent his entire childhood in the United States, the sudden exposure to tough life away from family, new food front and injuries were all challenges. Despite all of this, he completed the entire trek. It was a huge achievement for him. The bond he formed with new friends we made on the trek was a cherry on top of a very sweet cake.
Happy are those who dream…
After the trek we visited many places like Badrinath, Mana village, Bheempul, Vyas and Saraswati river’s place of origin. Sam was especially amazed by helicopter experience of the national park. Finally, in the evening, Tanmay asked everyone to share their trek experience. Sam confidently told everyone what he learnt from the journey. At the end of his speech he said “Dad, next time we will go to Rupin Pass”.
I was elated to know that he was interested in another trek. It affirmed my belief in trekking. I achieved what I had intended for him to learn: A passion for hiking. Tanmay honored him with a privilege voucher. I gifted Sam with a camera. Both of which are his treasured possessions now.
End of a beautiful journey with Ganga Darshan
Krishna, Birupaji and Tanmay are assets for Indiahikes. They care for every person and are pure by heart. I was left speechless when Trek Leader Tanmay asked my permission to have dinner with Sam.
Now we are back in the United States and his routine life has begun. But ever other day a fellow trekker sends me messages on Whatsapp inquiring about Sam and his well-being.
Thanks to Indiahikes who took care of my little Sam in all respects. Most importantly, they helped him grow. I simply sparked his passion for trekking but it is Indiahikes and my fellow hikers who nourished this passion in him. For that, he and I will be eternally grateful.