Interview: Dr. Arya Goes Trekks Through Nepal – His Most Intense Travel Experience Ever – Physically and Mentally
After our early morning trip to Lagochla, we got back to the camp at 8:30 am. We had breakfast and then we walked another 9 hours. We slowly made our way down, 8 or 9 hours every day. On the second last day of the trekk, one group member got very violently ill. At one time she actually threw up 9 times an hour. She was completely zapped of energy. On the last day, another group member got sick. At this point, I decided to talk to the leader since I am familiar with this type of illness. I figured both of them just needed rest, why don’t I take them down as quickly as possible to the hotel. Coming down slower would be even more painful for these guys as they had the mental fortitude and physical tenacity to make a ‘run’ for it. We would aim for doing it in 6 hours instead of 9. So a decision was made that I would take them down. The 2 sick people and myself rushed down and we indeed made it in 6 hours. Making it down safely was an incredible experience. I felt it was a real physical and mental feat.
After rushing down from the mountains we arrived in the little dusty town where we had started and we felt like cowboys riding in. The locals were sitting around in the heat watching three dusty travellers limp through their town with smiling faces. We were told that of all trekking groups that went up at this time, we were the only group that had made it to Lagochla, everybody else had turned around. We were very even more proud of the accomplishment.
One of the sherpas said that Western people always say “we conquered the mountain”. Eastern people, on the other hand, say “the mountain let us pass”. I am a firm believer of the latter. The rest of group came down a couple of hours later, exhilirated to make it back safely. We were all in a state of shock due to exertion, but we were happy as well.
Descending with the pack-yak
3) Please comment on practical aspects of the trekk: accommodation, food, equipment, fitness level required
Obviously, one has to be in decent shape to do this sort of trek. I am not certain one needs to be a marathoner etc. do complete it. I was in good shape anyway as I run and work out quite a bit. From a cardio perspective, I did not feel exerted. I did feel exerted tremendously from a muscular perspective as the duration of each trekking day was quite long. The trek can be hard on your knees and feet.
We all had very high quality mountain boots and packs. We had breathable clothes and socks. We would carry water bottles during the day along with high energy food stuffs like peanut brittle.
As far as accommodation goes-well, what accommodation?
I would, however, recommend that if one elects to go on this type of journey then they be in good shape of course. Get your cardio to a point where you are not huffing and puffing after a 30 minute jog. The mental training would be equally important. Read about the details of these types of trips and learn what to expect. Try to take some of the surprise out of it. It may help.
4) Please tell us about the mental components of the trekk (insights, learning experiences, emotions, spiritual experiences)
The nights would be so incredibly cold, I was freezing and almost in state of delirium. I wrote in my journal every day describing what we all were going through. I had pictures of my wife and daughter with me to which I would stare at every night. I found myself touching the pictures, longing for my family. I can honestly say that I missed them so much. Of course I couldn’t speak with them since there are no phones along the trekk. This was a really incredible feeling – this intense longing, I could not believe the intensity of this feeling..
Tending to blisters
The mental stress that you feel as a result of the conditions is very difficult. You have to go to the washroom outside, live with the cold (and heat) and deal with very poor sanitary conditions. This is difficult. It wears you down. The group was very strong mentally. We would pick each other up often and make each other laugh. I took the role on this trip as the person who would try to make everyone laugh when times got tough. I believe I took the role of the silent leader. We had designated leaders on the trip. As I felt mostly strong through the trip, I found I could often be used as a pillar when times got tough. I was lucky.
The reflection for this trip became more accurate as some time elapsed. In other words, it was difficult to fully enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds during the trek. However, upon my return and looking at the photos etc. I started to reflect in a more positive manner. It was a difficult trip; however, I realized that this trip was not about getting to a destination or saying you made it to a certain point. This trip was about the struggles, fun, exhilaration, companionship, and commentary along the way. I suppose- much like life! Seeing the beautiful sunrise at LaGochla or the peak of Everest from Darjeeling are really just minor events. The amount I learned about people and myself as we slowly and deliberately walked through rough terrain was incredible. Yes, the journey and not just the destination is what it was all about.
5) Please comment on the cultural components of the trip (contact points with locals, exposure to cultures, political insights etc.)
India, in general, is a fascinating and complicated place. I don’t think a real traveler should miss the adventure of traveling to the sub-continent.
The trek offered us some exposure to the Nepalase/Tibetian way of life. A seemingly simpler life with simple wants and needs. In addition, the usual and controversial effects of globalization are obviously apparent including the environmental issues. There is plenty of garbage left on the trails by Westerners as a result of the ever increasing number of people going on these types of treks. This is obviously quite disturbing.
The Sherpas were absolutely fascinating. First of all, we were quite humbled by them. Physically, they were in such superior shape. It was really something to see. They are very respectful of the mountains, the environment and to people in general. They are very accommodating, pleasant and knowledgeable about the mountains. Some of them would be carrying 100 pound loads on their backs and trotting up the hills like a Sunday stroll. Each time this happened, and it happened a lot, I would just watch in absolute awe.
6) Please tell us about the after-effects of the trekk
Since coming back it has taken me about a month to recover. Although I was 100% functional, something wasn’t quite right, something just didn’t feel right. Physically I was slightly off, I felt clumsy. After the trip I wanted to read more about the Himalayas, and since then I have read 4 books on the Himalayas, including two about the famous tragedy in 1996 when several climbers that died up there. There are also some amazing survival stories connected to this event. What started out as an interest in where I had been, lately has been, I must confess, a minor obsession to return. I have experienced more enthusiasm about going back, maybe trying an extreme climb, an adventure 2 notches higher than this trekk. I am grappling with that because I would really want to do something like that. But there is tremendous pressure from my family not to do it since they were worried sick about me while I was away on my trekk. The rational part of mind also agrees. I fully agree that there is no point in me trying to do something silly. I have a wife, child and another one on the way. I was lucky to go on this trip.
Thank you so much, Dr. Arya, for sharing your experiences with us from this exciting and unusual travel experiences.