Friday, 22 January 2021

Climbing Ben Nevis

 The morning of my third day at Fort William, I started for Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the British Isles and a favourite with trek lovers. It is a one day trek and one can easily reach the top if one plans accordingly. The walk from the B & B to the mountains was a distance of 3 kms. Not being an early waker, I reached the spot around 10 am. The beautiful walk had a curling field on the way. Curling was a popular old sport in the highlands which combined the raw strength of the Highlanders with strategy and skills. One has to slide huge round stones from one end of the play area to the other to reach its destination. It is called curling as the stones take a curvilinear path to reach the circle at the other end!

Curling Field, Ben Nevis

Reaching the foothills of the Nevis opened up a sight of a series of hills so breathtaking in beauty as only something so far up on the hemisphere can have. A stream bubbled along the foothills (River Nevis actually) and one had to cross it on a quaint wooden bridge. Then one had to climb up the stiles which lead to a paddocked field with sheep. Someone from the hot dusty tropical climate of coastal India could entirely appreciate the atmosphere of the place, and I was caught many a times just standing around and gazing. The climb was along a series of steps cut into the hills, and was quite unlike another climb I had done the previous year at Mt. Kinabalu. Unlike Mt Kinabalu, it was a raw climb, not too touristy, no porters or sitouts, or rope guides along the way. Even guide rails were missing at most places. 

I came across quite a number of interesting people along the way. An elderly Indian gentleman, who stayed in the vicinity, on his way down was surprised to see a solo lady climber from India. There was an adventurous young Chinese girl who was travelling on her own in Scotland by public transport. She had come straight from China (she was not a student in UK, I mean). Then an Australian lady who had camped in her car overnight at the Ben Nevis foothills, to get an early start on the climb. I love those Australian women. I feel they can do anything. I met a few of them on my journey in North UK. They have this unbounded energy and confidence. This particular lady was kind enough to give me a lift back to the B & B. She was interested that I was an Indian. She was going to start a new career in Chakra Healing. The Scotland trip was the beginning of a new start for her, having just left behind her old life which included her job and husband. 

"The path to the top is strewn with boulders" - Did anyone say that? Thats the truth anyways. The path was cut into the mountains. There were little bridges over gorges and planks over streams, The footpath was there in name only at many places along the route. The mountain goats were there in their lairs. Babbling brooks followed one on the trail (or the other way round, since I was climbing!)

I made it to a small loch nestled amongst the Ben Nevis, a bit after the halfway mark. It was called the Halfway Loch or more correctly the Loch Meall an t-Suidhe. The path to the top is on the right of the Loch. Since I realised I didnt have time to make it to the top, having got a train to catch to my next destination, Glasgow, I climbed down to the Loch and dipped my feet in its pristine water.

The range of mountains around the Glen Nevis make a stunning panorama. Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag are the neighbours to the Nevis. Now try saying those names the Gaellic way as you prepare to climb the range!

The Halfway Lochan, Ben Nevis

Climbing Tips - Even though I went at the fag end of the British summer, the weather was chilly enough to layer up. I chanced upon a rare phase of Scottish sunshine and only had one day of drizzle in my Highlands stay.

Boots or shoes with grip are necessary as the route to the top is filled with rubbles and has a steady gradient. 

Walking stick is a must for any climb in my opinion as it makes everything so easy

Guides or being with a group would be good as they can point out the various features. However I tend to fall behind in groups as I satisfy my curiosity, so I avoid them. 

The biggest tip is - If you enjoy trekking, you are bound to enjoy this. Relax, wear some good shoes and have a nice journey!

I had this trip way back in September 2014. Just came across my notes and blog on paper,  dug some old pics and so here it is!

"Footpath" on Ben Nevis

The babbling brooks along the way

Across a wooden bridge

Panorama of hills

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Mind Medicine - The Best Vaccine

The vaccine scene for the corona virus seems to be reaching the final stages. For better or for worse we will be getting a vaccine soon. Whether it will have long term side effects as some discrete reports suggest, time will tell. But again, the entire vaccine industry is under severe scrutiny and not just for the Corona vaccine.

The biggest crisis that the last few months has thrown up, together with the scrouge of the virus is that of the mental variety. While those that have got the severe form of the virus have definitely faced distress and disruption in their lives, its the rest of the population worldwide, the majority, that has faced a different kind of challenge, with the abnormal changes to lifestyle.

The crisis has seen varied responses - from the most conservative, masked, dont mix, stay at home, dont eat or step outside, wait it out response to the brazen it out, and dont care, and life goes one as usual response and many forms of in between. 

The virus, its consequences, sometimes deaths and suffereing, mostly the negativity, has continued to prey heavily on our minds these past many months. The best vaccine to get rid of all these effects is to ensure we take care of our minds.

There is a small story I read recently, the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his Antartica Expedition. Apparently the ad Shackleton placed when looking for his crew went like this - "men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success".  

What does it say about the intrepid people who answered this ad? Were they fools? Ernest Shackleton was a legend by that time and men answering the ad and wishing to go on this expedition knew what they were in for. They understood life had no guarantees and they wished to do the things they loved. What made them stand out, was their indomitable spirit, their attitude, their thirst for discovery. Even though Shackleton's voyage was not successful in it's goals, it stood out just for the way he and his crew members survived it. Iced in for a major part of two years, a sunken ship,  taking a 800 mile open boat (the saved lifeboats) trip to solid ground.

The mind has endless possibilities. The biggest challenge it faces is the will of the person to be positive. There are so many layers covering our day to day living that it becomes an arduous task to just peel away those layers to reveal the simple task of living. But once those layers are peeled away, the mind shines cleanest and brightest. The successful leaders will tell you, that they just focussed on the job. So it is our job - to keep on living with a free mind, positive attitude. Life has no guarantees.

A race horse has blinkers to avoid external distraction. Thats what we need to do, put on the blinkers, stay focussed, and happy, and positive - and we couldn't ask for better vaccines. 

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Nana - RIP

On this first anniversary of Nana, I find the memories of him starting to unclog, as if they were stuck somewhere down there in the system, and refusing to come out as memories, tales waiting to be told and retold by him. But now he can’t verify them.
Being his daughter, I was subjected to some fierce protectiveness and love (not that his sons were spared the same).
A tale he loved to tell and which I distinctly remember, is how I once cried because a teacher hit me in class. I cried at home. The next day he was in the classroom and asking me which teacher hit me, while I pointed at her. I don’t know who was more mortified, the teacher or the six year old me. But nonetheless, I think I was relieved because I do remember she was a terror. I was shifted to another section.
When I first went to school by cycle, he would reach there as the bell rang and ride by me on his scooter!!! The same continued when I came back home after hostel. He would be at the bus stop to fetch me home, even if I was all of 23.
Some other persistent childhood memories are of him coming home by scooter and we would be waiting by the window. We were used to his booming laugh, his overall generosity and huge heart, also his quick temper! But he never ever raised a hand to anyone. He had his fancies. He had bought a car even before I was born, and there are so many tales about that vehicle, I think my elder brother, who had the privilege of riding in it, would be able to do justice to it. He got a Colour TV just as they started producing them and which made our house popular in the neighbourhood, he took us on annual vacations when my parents went for their conferences. He loved all those new experiences. By the time I was 11 years old, we (my brothers and I with my grandmother accompanying us) had seen most of India, literally from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
He was a familiar figure on his scooter at the Mangalabag junction, where he stopped for his daily paan. Stories from many people about him would include, how he dropped them behind at Mangalabag, forgetting they were riding pillion! He was eccentric that way, and many other ways! Relatives remember his running after them, insisting they give blood, urine samples, so he could get them tested for whatever disease his medical eyes would have detected. I have not seen a more intuitive or genuine doctor. All our life, except the last few years, we just needed to tell a problem over the phone, for the correct diagnosis to reach us. We became quite blasé, expecting the same level of commitment and knowledge from every Doctor.
He went to work as a Surgeon at Libya for some time. The warm family man that he was, he could not last there for long. But he made the most of that time. He had a long tour of Europe on his return. He had a host of Libyan stories to tell. As a Doctor and the Chief Surgeon, he was hugely respected. For the most part the patients treated him like God. However, there is one incident which he told that gave us the chills, a patient running after him in his pickup due to some perceived grievance. He ran to the police station, and the police were very helpful. He however had significant success as a Surgeon over there and made some lasting friendships.
Other incidents come to life, as I start to write. His being desolate on retiring. He was not much a private practicing person. He gave his all to his job and rest to playing his beloved bridge, and family matters. Clubbing was not for him. Then as he got his pension dues, he picked up a project, building his beloved house. Till then we were always staying at quarters or rental accommodations. He went into the house project with the same zest he reserved for anything.
As his house got completed, and the family started staying there, he got into another project. The SCB 51, a reunion of his batchmates from medical college. From 1995, till 2018, before the advent of mobile phones till the days of all pervasive media, from heights of success, to kids marriages, grandchildren, retirement sojourns, illnesses, and lately, the last few years, deaths, the group met with clockwork regularity, monthly, then bi- monthly, quarterly, annually. The kind of seriousness, intent and formality and of course love each and every member brought to these meetings were lessons for all of us. My father was forever serious about these meet-ups and was an important cog in this wheel of reunions. My mother, a Doctor with two DMs to her credit, was always by his side, supporting his every decision, and acting on them.
He was a very curious man, always wanting to try out new things. To that end he even took computer lessons to understand the intricacies of word and excel. Anyone who got caught by him needed to explain how all the facets of a mobile phone worked. He also used his need to be on top of things, to his health. Ravaged by many diseases, he was always on the lookout for the latest cure. From applying the latest stents in 2002, to a cyber knife treatment that he had discovered that apparently worked best for prostrate cancer, he went fearlessly into the operation theatre. Maybe all those hours in the OT had given him an appreciation of how much of a saviour a surgeon is, as well as removed any fear of a surgeon’s table. It is fitting that he spent his last days in the ICU. But what a fight he gave! And what torture it was for us.
The biggest memory I would forever carry of my father is his ruling the drawing room, people coming to visit him forever at all hours, everyone from the driver or the cook’s brother to respected doctors or managers, to relatives, being accorded the same respect, the same chairs to sit, pakoda, cold drinks, tea. And respect to my Mom for providing it, the tea and pakodas.
May he carry his huge heart and egalitarian principles to whichever World he is now!