Nature does not belong to us, we belong to nature. Have you ever wondered why people find happiness and solitude in travelling? Humans have been nomads since ancient times, and it has been our trait from time immemorial. Our natural instinct was always to roam, stay close to nature and adapt to our surroundings. It always brought peace to that instinct and self-satisfaction to the soul. Hikes and treks have become the new means of that part of seeking ourselves. No mineral water bottles. Drink from springs and streams, do not worry if it isn’t a renowned brand. Be a part of nature. It is okay to sweat, it is okay to get some bruises, it is alright to not bath for a few days, to try new stuff, to meet new people while travelling, to caress the dogs that lead your path. Be Kind. Let us be humble and grateful for all we are offered by the mother Earth. The whole purpose of travel is to become a better person and establish a bond with nature which is now somehow diluted due to all the modernization surrounding us. When in the lap of nature, let us try to be as sustainable as possible.
We know it’s irritating not to be able to go for our adventures these days, but it’s alright, when the time is right we want you to wear how you feel about the world of outdoors. We have launched our apparel. Let us know which design excites you the most? Comment and tell us.
Over ice, I’m freezing Beautiful eyes, deceiving We may die this evening Coughing, wheezing, bleeding High, I’m an anxious soul Blood moons are my eyes, stay low Red and black, they glow Under attack, in my soul When it’s my time, I’ll know Never seen a hell so cold Yeah, we’ll make it out, I’ll know We’ll run right through the flames, let’s go.
It is disheartening to hear what is happening around the world. Please think hard and know that we are all one. How much anger is creeped within us to take someone’s life? What kind of anger is this? We have no right to form a judgment on someone’s colour, race or ethnicity. All lives are important and all lives matter, but at this moment it is crucial to understand and completely empathise with the black people in the world. We take this time for solidarity with all the black people in the world. We completely apologise for what has happened. Here are some black Olympian’s who have won medals in Winter Olympics and have made significant contributions to the world of adventure sports.
1. Akwasi Frimpong: Ghana’s second athlete to ever compete in the Winter Olympics.
2. Shani Davis: one of the most decorated long track speed skaters with four Olympic medals in his belt.
3. Sabrina Simader: first person from Kenya to compete in alpine skiing. The only athlete who represented Kenya at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
4. Maame Biney: an American, originally from Ghana. The first black woman to make the Olympic speed skating team and only the second African American born athlete to represent the U.S. in the Winter Olympics.
5. Erin Jackson: qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics after learning how to speed skate just four months prior. The first black woman to be on the U.S. long track team.
A big salute to all of you from and a message to all from us – WE ARE ALL ONE.
It was as if almost all our lives could be played on a recorder and fast-forwarded to this moment.
Every onset and eventuality in the journey of life was nothing, but a step further towards it. As if the whole life is a mountain and this moment is the peak.
This moment of the first sight I experienced, the sight of Kanchendzonga.
As if all our lives are waves of a thoughtless storm and Kanchendzonga is the shore. Everything that has happened and un-happened, everyone I became and un–became, was one step closer towards this calling. As if all the paths I have ever walked upon were to reach the peak of this moment called Kanchendzonga.
These were my raw thoughts, overwhelmed by the first sight of this mountain. I gently closed my diary and capped my pen. Without reading any of it. It was not just a mountain for me, for those who have seen Kanchendzonga, would know it. For those who haven’t, may jolly well conclude that I am batshit crazy and that’s okay. In that moment, which loomed for hours unknown, the clear blue sky gave way to the crimson evening. The winds were in a cold hurry and so was I, It was getting dark.
We were in a group of 10, but I sneaked some time out to spend alone. My fellow trekkers led the way forward, while I decided to meditate in ‘woods and words’. Before leaving, Indranil, our trip leader, reiterated that I need to follow the single trailed–steep path, downhill.
Jolted by a sense of delay, I jumped to grab my belongings. My cold hands surrendered to the freeze quickly, while I still tried to fasten my backpack. One last look, before I hit the mysterious jungle. Mount Pandim (21,952 feet) and Kanchendzonga (28,169.29 Feet), overlooked the sun-kissed grass. Autumn colours made the wild fields look like a palette of reds and oranges, cheerily mixed with green. I finally picked up my backpack and tripod, when Indranil’s last words rang in my head – “Be careful. No matter what, do not venture inside the jungle. Stick to your trail until you reach a river, that’s our campsite.
I entered the Rhododendron jungle. Thick moss comfortably wrapped thin branches, illuminated by the fading sun. The wind stealthily whizzed through the branches, making the jungle alive, as though breathing. The loose rocks made the downhill steep–unladed path a careful affair. I was carrying my camera on the tripod head. In non-photographic language, it simply means that I did not have the luxury to fall. Thus, began my journey into the labyrinth.
As feet follow the trail, the mind follows another. Even before I realised it, I was in the middle of the “haunted” trails of Goechala.
Goechala is said to be so enchanting that wayfarers lose the sense of reality here. The trail earns a notorious name because many trekkers have lost their way here. In yesteryear, a guide followed a bird, blood pheasant, and lost his way in the jungle, while crossing the Phedang trail. What started as a little detour to click the picture of a bird, led him to the heart of the wilderness and he could not retrace his footsteps back to the trail. Only when a local search and rescue operation was launched, was he found in the jungle, completely hazed and clueless about his whereabouts.
Several other people have been lured and ventured into the forest. Some found and some never to be seen again. But my fate did not swing in between these possibilities. I was certain about the trail and rejected any urge to stop. Well, until I looked back. The entangled Rhododendron branches gleamed fluorescent. The green moss spread across the barren crimson sky. Now that’s a photographer’s problem, give us a frame like that and we can’t help but drool. A couple of shots to feed the photographer and bit of artistic angles to keep the writer happy and like a fool, we’d think every shot is a National Geographic entry.
I resumed my quest with a smile. As it started getting dark, winds became strong. As if someone is blowing them freely. This led me to believe that I am not alone. Suddenly the jungle was breathing heavier, as evening settled in. I still had a long way to reach Kockchurang.
Once upon a time, an old man walked the same path. This sleepy watchguard, who lives alone in the middle of nowhere, in a place called Thansing. Imagine a huge clearing of miles and miles of barren land. A lone man, igniting a bonfire, in a lonely cottage. Every-day. This is how Chacha has always lived. At least since the past 25 years that my people know him for. His human interaction is limited to the trek season of 4 to 5 months. Every year, when people meet him and he’d be there; just like the last year. Just like the trekker’s hut, the river and the mountains. The forest and the wild. Timeless. Simply maddening a tad more, with every passing season. So here’s Chacha’s story. The old man was helping a group of lost trekkers to cross the jungle. It was about to be dark and Chacha decided to return to his cottage in Thansing. They say, while hiking alone, he too could hear the jungle breathing. They say, he saw something unfathomable. And he ran, ran all the way to save his life. Rumours of a Yeti not only spread soon but are alive till date.
Weaving these thoughts, I didn’t even realise that I could see a giant figure at the far distance. Waving at me. It was Indranil. And I was home!
My home somehow pictured like this. There was an old trekker’s hut. A brook quietly made its way by the side. A quaint wooden bridge arched over the brook. The brook and the bridge, in eternal companionship, holding hands against the “haunted” trekker’s hut. I crossed the bridge and hugged my fellow trekkers like they were the only family I ever had! Now, that’s the thing about travel, it bonds you beyond blood and brotherhood.
Just a few steps after crossing the bridge is a cliff, perfectly edged. A muffled roar of the Prek–Chu river far below, touched its feet! I sat there for a while, thinking about how this place truly resembles Shangri–la.
Many refer to Goechala as the last Shangri–la. Khangchendzonga translates to five repositories of God’s treasure. It is a prevalent belief that this treasure is hidden in the mountains around Yuksom. These mountains are also said to hide the secret gateway to Shangri–la that will be revealed to the right person at the right time. I wonder if all these lost souls, find their secret gate to the other world and decide never to come back? If these people were the right people, present at the right time, to stumble upon the magical world? Here’s a small legend a little monk once narrated:
An old monk knew the way to the magical valley of Shangri–la. He even possessed a detailed map to reach the valley. However, he was the last bearer of this information. Tempted by this idea, powerful nincompoops of that era chased the old monk. All in vain! The monk reached Shangri–la valley and jumped off the cliff. Thereafter, nobody was able to find it. I shuddered at this possibility.
Breaking my stream of thoughts, I could hear a distant chatter. Indranil was sharing the tale of the haunted hut in Kockchurang.
Years ago, a German and a French man lived together in the hut. Eventually, the French man murdered the German and absconded. Ever since then, the hut is said to be haunted by the good Samaritan German ghost, who flashes a torch through the window past midnight, cutting through the darkness. It’s spooky how long ago, Indranil regardless spent a night there. Alone.
The Shangri–la within:
The saga is unending. These mysteries will continue for an aeon. That is what makes Goechala truly magical. I wish I could go back to myself in the moment when I first saw Kanchendzonga and tell myself that this moment was my Shangri–la! Maybe, we all carry our Shangri–la within, only to be revealed at the right time!
If it calls you, this itinerary is your way to Shangri–la:
Day 1: New Jalpaiguri railway station/Bagdogra Airport to Yuksom
Day 2: Yuksom local Acclimatization
Day 3: Yuksom (5800 feet) to Sachen (7250feet). 4 hours
My mind continuously travels and has an unimaginable speed of peeking into my past and quickly diving into my unknown realm of future, weaving my coveted dreams only to be distracted with a sudden sound and bang, I am in present. Yet, it continues my voluntary journey.
The moment I am back in the present, I consciously start planning my next visit, as most of the times, to lesser-known undisturbed territories that are full of nature’s magnificence. After the humdrum of city life soaking into the purity with no social abiding law gives a sense of liberty. A moment to be truly me appreciating God’s gifts.
It is there I get a sense of real belonging. My senses merge with nature’s five elements in complete union. The burbling of stream, the gentle swishing of leaves, the tall and short trees, the natural light, sitting under the various shades of the sky on a rock takes me into complete bliss. The walk encountered with few people in the same spirit ignites the rejuvenating spark.
In continuity and tirelessly, I am never bored with the flora and fauna; the wildlife, landscapes, scenery and the countryside; each location has ample to offer and teach. My yearning is the same. I come back as a humble and grounded person.
Neelam Jayneel is a life coach and a counsellor with a vast experience in hospitality, human resources, FMCG sector and writing. She loves to help people achieve their goals and to pave a way forward for humanity. she has the joy of spiritual awakening through regular meditation that has provided a sense of inner calm and looks forward to impact as many people’s life both professionally and personally.
I clambered in the vehicle with pure elation. Light pink and purple hue swayed across the sky as our safari gypsy speeds up to 90 kilometers an hour in the next ten seconds. I seized the seat handle slipping from my grasp and bearing the wind hitting me to the bone, I momentarily forgot it was April, the gateway month to the great Indian summer.
Swaddled in a blanket, over a roller-coaster road hemmed by lush green fields, opening into widely spaced trees in a few miles and small craggy peaks formed the recurring backdrop, only if you could open eyes to see.
Buffeted by strong winds that made a walloping sound forced us to shut our eyes. Soon, we yelled to hear each other and from time to time our blankets loosen open until we fought it back into place. We started the process and slowly the enthusiasm faded as the jeep nudged over uneven roads. Lost in the moment, I gripped onto hot tea flasks and turned a blind eye to how cold I felt.
Listening to the wailing wind and murmur of branches we bent behind a mountain and continued on a wooded trail until the car stopped for a short haul and we saw before us the forest gate inked ‘Ranthambore Tiger Reserve’.
A gentle wind caresses our face, “ oh, the monster has passed” said our travel companion, an Australian who had flown 7,000 miles out in the Indian wilderness to spot a tiger with his wife.
I collect myself, letting my body relax and my husband getting ready veiling under the dusk mask.
My eyes popped out seeing the bazooka, NIKKOR 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR that my Australian friend unfastened from his camera backpack.
It’s 7 in the morning and I felt a perfect stillness in the forest, a sort that you get nowhere else, but in the woods after a snowfall or in a desert after a devastating sandstorm.
We barely caught sight of the tiger limping hurriedly into the deep bushes, everything from back and in five seconds. Albeit we missed the encounter. The spot bombarded with stories from other guides of the epic duel between two tigers over territorial supremacy.
The forest trails would follow fortress gates and many historic ruins reminding you of the hunting grounds of Rajput royals of India.
Our driver Ravi started bending sideways while controlling the steering. Struck by the same impulse, we peered over the side of the vehicle to see a remarkably big pug mark next to three tiny pug marks in the dry road.
We laboured a few miles up a mountain. I can never forget passing through a narrow trail bordering right by a deep drop and on left spiky twigs sprouting out from the ridge. We scooted under the tunnel of bushes fearing of mishap and imagining a tiger can easily cloak under the golden foliage.
No trees fell nor felines, all that fell on us was the lung filling smell of chlorophyll while pushing through low branches. We reached the spot; a rectangular stretch of rocky upland bounded by an escarpment in the front and a forest in the back. Those iconic oranges and black stripes mysteriously move from the thickets. We were way behind, there were dozens of more jeeps before us who got lucky securing vantage points. Even our cameras failed to capture the tigress and her cubs. We all held our breath and waited.
Gauging the scenario, holding the camera tight telling oneself that the tigress was out there, most likely eyeballing everybody from the bush. Adventure is not over. After an hour, we finally made peace with reality, it was not our day.
In dampened spirits, we returned for the gates. I stood for a second catching my breath to see something come into sight. My eyes widen as the thing comes closer. Our driver announced ‘ tiger, tiger sitting here’. My eyes open wide, I couldn’t believe it! It’s a tiger, a huge sized seating on an eye-level ridge distanced by 70 meters from us. The bazooka suddenly turned nonfunctional at such a close distance. He throws his legs over the rock base and moves his body gracefully forward. He gave me time to adjust my lens and I saw a jaw stretching move through the viewfinder. All those moves of a tiger we grew up seeing in National Geographic.
The heart-thudding stare of the tiger couldn’t make me move, next to me the water hole was the true mirror. There was no one except us. It felt magical, indescribable and within I felt ‘This moment is mine’. Only I followed his gaze to find a procession of jeeps standing behind us. The tiger gets up soundlessly and bounds ahead gallantly into the forest.
On our way back, Ravi overstated the entire event by saying “ he could smell the tiger”. Though I couldn’t agree to his concocted stories. It truly took a while for my heart to return to its usual pace but even much longer for the grin to fade off. I thanked my lucky stars for granting me the moment and my best tiger click. They say you stand a better chance of spotting a tiger if you’re in a gypsy against a canter, near the lake, in the morning against an evening safari or during the summers when animals come near watering holes.
These are some of the telltales of our Indian jungles, but I say, you see it only if you’re destined to see it.
Satarupa Mitra Datta is a travel writer and has worked extensively in television channels (both in fiction and non-fiction genre). She has been instrumental in writing compelling scripts for travel shows in India. She aims for travel writing that communicates a strong sense of place, character and discovery. She designs her own trips and itineraries relying on local guides and community non-profits as well as individuals who conduct heritage walks or gifted chefs taking on a food tour, giving travelers the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange.
We should feel blessed that it has become easy today to access the beauty of the mountains, an overnight journey from Delhi and you are amidst the big mountains grasping the fresh cool air into your lungs and witnessing the vistas of incredible nature.
We want to highlight six reasons why you should travel to the Mountains:
Good for Physical Health: Travelling to the mountains and indulging in activities such as; nature walks, hiking and trekking can boost your overall health. The high altitude of mountains causes the heart and lungs to work more than the usual routine which builds up your cardiovascular strength and thus spikes up your endurance levels. Plenty of sunlight enriched with Vitamin D is essential for the body to function effectively which you receive in abundance in the mountains. Also, indulging in outdoor activities gives a true reflection of your physical well being which you sometimes don’t realize in the busy city life and this realization gives a message that taking care of your body is paramount to live a better life.
Good for Mental Health: According to research, spending time in wilderness and nature benefits mental well being. It detoxifies the mind by releasing feel-good chemicals in the brain known as dopamine and serotonin which are responsible for reducing stress and anxiety and ultimately creates happiness. Nature not only heals your body and mind but also purifies the soul. So, whenever you want to relax in peace amidst nature, get disconnected from the hustle-bustle of city life, keep in mind that mountains are the best places to do so.
Activities in mountains: From off-road biking, mountain biking, paragliding, trekking at high altitudes, climbing on rocks, river rafting, skiing on snowy slopes, mountains never score low on filling you with adventure and thrill. If you are not an adventure junkie, mountains have other exciting offers for you; camping in forests, chilling beside a river or a lake or sitting on a cliff and admiring the breathtaking view of the valley, meditating in a rock cave to taking a cold shower in a waterfall or relaxing in hot water springs, there are countless things you can do in the mountains which give a memorable experience.
Nature at its best: The true beauty of nature can be witnessed in the mountains which harbours a wealth of flora and fauna. Lush Green Forests, gushing rivers and waterfalls, magnificent Lakes, stunning meadows and exquisite glaciers glorify the beauty of the mountains. The dynamic weather conditions make it more dramatic; you never know when a clear sky will be enveloped by quaintly shaped clouds and after a while, the valley would be filled with rain or snow and even a rainbow. The mountains make us realize that we are very small in comparison to nature, we will eventually leave the earth, but the mountains will stay forever.
Bonding and Knowledge: A trip to the mountains with friends holds a special place in the journey of friendship. Mountains help us bond and know each other well and leaving behind joyful memories that stay in the heart forever. Along the way, we get a chance to meet new people and make new friends. We also receive valuable knowledge by watching the lives of mountain people and their traditions, culture, language, way of living and surviving which helps in expanding our mind and intellect.
Budget-Friendly: A trip to the mountains would rarely dig a hole in your pocket. Are you thinking of a holiday in the mountains but worrying about the money? Then let me inform you that taking a holiday in the mountains is quite cheap compared to a beach vacation? With plenty of options for budget hotels, hostels, home stays and budget travel companies that exist today, you can plan a mountain trip at a nominal cost.
So after when we get our freedom back, use it wisely, use it for going to the mountains.
For all the mountain lovers, just like us, there is some relief despite the grave situation we are facing. We know it is not easy to let the adventurous bug be suppressed. The trekking season usually starts in May and ends in October. A period of five months full of exploration, camping, hiking, trekking, discovering new trails, Off -roading and making new friends has gone down the drain.
But we have got you covered with three gripping books written on the Himalayas covering the entire region, if we can’t travel temporarily, we can read about the adventures and plan for later what we have missed, so check it out.
A Bond with The Mountains by Ruskin Bond
The famous mountain man Ruskin Bond wrote this book back in the ‘90s and the book was first published in 1998. Simple, innocent and childlike, the story will probably make you fall in love with the mountains like a child’s unstoppable enthusiasm. Things like wayside stations, children waving at the train and the people in it, the exotic plants in the hills, birds, leopards, deodar trees, rhododendron plants and fireflies. A must – read in times like these when we are frustrated with overthinking about the economy, career and profundity, not realizing that; it’s the simple things usually that are most profound.
The Land of Moonlit Snows & Other Real Travel Stories from The Indian Himalaya by Gaurav Punj
If you are someone who has hiked and trekked a number of times and are ready to take the next step, this book is for you. The book covers real stories of Gaurav Punj, his wife and a few of like minded friends journey to upper Himalayas – Leh, Ladakh, Spiti, Kalpa, Sangla, Jolinkong, Kugti and Sikkim. The simple life of people in the mountains, their hospitality, culture and festivals, tips and information, raw adventure, and good humour. Gaurav has written an authentic and interesting travelogue covering his adventures that will help us all adventurers, so you can’t afford to miss it.
Walking the Himalayas by Levison Wood
Levison Wood, ex British Army and now a full-time explorer, writer and photographer walked the most dangerous and rugged terrains of the Himalayas. From Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan, meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala – the Central Tibetan Administration headquarters. Meeting nomadic tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan border and reminiscing hitchhiking times in Nepal at the time of political conflict. Most of the journey is done on foot because as Levison Wood says – travelling on foot is the only way to really explore the back country and villages hidden from the main trails and roads and there is a unique bond that unites walkers everywhere.
We hope these books bring you joy and make you dream about the mountains more often. You have a book to recommend and join The Inner Outdoors community? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “TIO” in the subject line.