Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dancing to the mountains


12th October 2009 - Sitting at the airport and waiting to board the flight to New Delhi, listening to Vishnu Sahasranamam, I am wondering how it all started - My passion for mountains. Well, going back to my childhood. I think it all began through my parents especially my Mom, who equally shared her love for nature with my brother Balaji, fondly called Bali and myself. My mom is a gifted writer. It is such a pleasure to read her articles on her experiences with nature. She is a good photographer too! My father was a real inspiration for me. He never stopped me from exploring any things in life. Never said no for anything and encouraged me in all my endeavors. I never had the fear to explore. I had learnt cycling when I was in 3rd grade and had learnt driving a moped in 6th grade. When I got my first car, he just asked me to take him and my mom to Mysore even though I never had any experience of high way driving or even night driving. But my father had lot of confidence in me!

In my childhood days, every holiday especially summer time, I, along with my brother used to meet up with my cousins who used to stay in the Kudremukh amidst beautiful Sahyadri mountain ranges. The place was surrounded by dense forests, little streams, and Bhadra River. We all cousins loved to just take off into the forest, play in the streams, bathe in the river,…Also our idea of a picnic was to be next to river and have fun!. I was fascinated by the huge 900 ft Jog falls, Gajnur dam near Shimoga, Cauvery river at Shrirangapatna, Mysore zoo, dense forests around Kudremukh,.. Thus my love for nature was sown in my childhood itself.

In the mean time, I finished my studies; got married in 1993, and had a baby. I was a professional classical danseuse. I used to travel a lot for performances and teaching. During these years, nothing much happened apart from focusing on my career and family commitments. Here and there we used to go and have fun at resorts, stay at jungle lodges; go for back water rides in Kerala; sun bathe at Goa beaches…

It is during my early visits to USA 2000 onwards, I developed the passion for trekking again. There I used to take a day off for hikes at Santa Monica mountain ranges in California, Appalachian in West Virginia, and the best of all was my hike in Grand Canyon during April 2005. After too much of brainstorming whether to hike there or not, I hiked in GC all alone. ....
The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided gorge carved by the Colorado River in the United States, in the state of Arizona. 277 miles long, it ranges in width from 4 to 18 miles and attains a depth of over a mile (6000 feet). Except for whitewater rafting, I did some hiking and helicopter tours. Many hikers overestimate their fitness level, and become de-hydrated. Due to lack of experience, I didn’t even bother to carry pain killers with me. My camping place after a day’s hike was at Phantom ranch. The trail was steep. Well defined. Some shade was present on the trail, mostly from the canyon walls. The Bright Angel Creek on the northern side of the Colorado River and is the only lodging facility below the Canyon’s rim. The Ranch can only be reached by hiring a mule, by foot, or by rafting on the Colorado River, and is a popular stop-over point for hikers and mule riders traveling to the bottom of the Canyon via the famous Bright Angel or Kaibab trails. The rustic cabins and the main lodge are built of wood and native stone and do not take away the natural beauty. Hiking down the canyon killed my knees and hiking up killed my back! I survived with those pain killers and a Hiking stick that was lent to me by a fellow trekker whom I met at Phantom Ranch. When I got back to the top of the canyon, it was drizzling and then suddenly it started snowing too. I cried my heart out thanking god for bringing me back alive! Later I figured that it was a foolish thing to hike in the canyon all alone. If any mishap took place, no one will ever know that you were even there!!!

Turning point

Dancing Bharatanatyam for over 34 years, 21 years as a professional, I led a very active, athletic life. Ill with Chikkunguniya in late 2006, a potentially dehabilitating joint infection (like severe arthritis), I was down - both physically and mentally. The disease put my life completely off track. I could not even get up from the bed on my own; brushing my teeth, carrying a milk packet or walking up a staircase was infinitely challenging. Dancing or trekking was a definite pipe-dream. After almost 9 months, I beat this disease through Yoga.

I began to walk and slowly, started jogging, but not dance. But I could not dance. Rather I didn’t want to dance due to various reasons. There was so much of attachment to it that I hated it - as not dancing in these past months had put me into so much of pain. I neither wanted to see any program nor meet any one related to that field nor take any classes. In one way, it was good. I got to spend a lot of time with my family. But it was quite childish though when I look back into that. Well. Each one of us learn our lesson on our own pace I guess. When we are going through the pain, it seems very difficult but later after some time, when you look back; it is all for good I feel. . Once I was physically better, I went for a trek with my brother’s family to Coorg. And in May 2007, several of us with the help of Chandrasang Foundation planned a trek in the Himalayas - from Gangotri to Baby Shivling via Tapovan and back.

8 days in the serene Himalayas - the ‘heaven on earth’ : The deeper you trek inside the Himalayas, she reveals more of her beauty to you. Layers and layers of mountains sketched and colored by the Supreme keeps opening in front of our eyes. At Tapovan, when I saw the gorgeous Bhagirathi peaks on one side, majestic Shivling Peak on the other side and the crystal clear stream flowing in between, in the presence of the power of nature, I felt the power of the Almighty. I used to feel the presence of that power when I danced and had missed it since.The Himalayas gave me so much of joy that dance seemed inconsequential in comparison. It slowly brought detachment to dance. For the first time, I could imagine a life – happy & constructive, even without dancing.

After this trek, back in Chennai, I googled one day and came to know about CTC-Chennai trekkers club!, that’s it!. My happiness knew no bounds. I registered myself into that and my first one day trek through CTC was to Tada on 28th Aug 2008, with my husband. Hmm. My hubby Ramprasadh, a Carnatic vocalist by profession is exactly opposite in nature. Warm heart by nature, He is tall. I am short. He is calm. I am short tempered. Rather drives me madJ. He loves indoors and I am outdoor person. He loves resorts and relaxes. I love trekking and sweating. That’s how God makes pairs I guess. Make pairs who are totally different and have fun at our cost!. lolJ..But we do have few common things like music, movie and travel that we enjoy together. It is only after marriage, Ram got exposure to nature and other adventure related activities. What I appreciate is, he never says no to what ever I would like to do and when ever he can, he would like to be a part of adventure activities and tries his best to do well...I just love him for that!

I enjoyed every moment of my treks in deep jungles, in unknown trails, steep, rocky, slippery trails....diving into deep crystal clear pools from different heights, swimming across pools ferrying loads,. It was fun... Well… In the over 15 treks in the last sixteen months, I have discovered, Nature is amazing. Nature is God.

Treks put life back into my life. Friendship and self - lost in deep jungles, sleeping under the open sky, I began rediscovering who I am and what I want.

I started attending The Bhagavad Gita classes. It was such an eye opener! Gita belongs to all. It doesn’t belong only to Hindu or preach only for Hindus. Gita is way of life. It can be adopted by any one in the world who wants to understand life. I always used to think all these philosophy stuffs has to be read by people after their retirement lolJ But after attending these classes, I realized how foolish i was for not having learnt in my younger days. I strongly feel all schools should make it compulsory for all the kids to know Gita so that they would be well prepared to face the challenges of life in a more matured manner. So, trekking and Gita has been the most influencing factors in my life I would say.. My favorite quote from Gita – Chapter 2 ……

Dhyayato vishayan pumsah sangas teshupajayate
sangat sanjayate kamah kamat krodho 'bhijayate

While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.

Krodhad bhavati sammohah sammohat smriti-vibhramah
smriti-bhramsad buddhi-naso buddhi-nasat pranasyati

From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool................................

This is what exactly happened between Dance and myself !. Now, I hope I don't get attached to treks any more..:) Easy to read..But very difficult to follow.Isn’t it ?!
Well,,, In May 2009 after completing a family trek in Gharwal Himalayas towards Bandhar poonch range with Chandra didi, winner of the Padmashree, Arjuna and National Adventure awards, I applied for the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) course. I then jumped headlong into the rigorous training program there.

Thus, at the age of forty, I began pursuing my dream of becoming a mountaineer – a journey whose first steps began with rediscovering an enthusiasm for life via treks.

Now, After this four years of silence, trekking has inspired me to come back to Dancing once again!!. I hope trekking and dancing would be my heart and soul. I am still discovering myself. Probably, I have now started Dancing to the mountains!