I first went on a trek in 2002 and how green I was! I trekked with Seshadri (my husband) to Sar Pass in Himachal Pradesh. He had been on a few treks in college itself. The stories he used to tell were enough to put anyone off trekking for ever! Once they were lost in a jungle in Uttarakhand and walked from morning in the rains till 9.00 pm before they reached anywhere and got something to eat. I told him I was not interested in any of these mis-adventures! And yet I wanted to trek! So we went on a YHAI trek which was well organized. And the rest is history. After trekking for more than ten years here is a post dedicated to tips for first time trekkers.
1. Trekking in Group vs Trekking with Friends vs Trekking Solo
After having done all, I would vouch for trekking with family and friends. If I can’t get anyone known to trek with me I go solo (with a guide). But then I am old.
I once a met a couple who got married on that day in a remote hill temple on the Triund trail. They did so as a mark of respect to the mountains because they first met on a trek! So, I guess group, family, friends or solo is a very individual choice.
2. Easy/Moderate/Difficult Treks
Treks are categorized as easy, moderate or difficult. The actual terminology used may differ, but that is what it boils down to. Let me be honest with you. I get tired on all the treks! Even the easy ones tire me out. I get dead tired on the difficult ones. If you are testing waters, I would say go for an easy trek but beware, all of them are tiring.
3. It is not a Race!
I learned this with YHAI. They drilled it into us that trekking is not about who reaches the next campsite first. You do not run from campsite to campsite when you trek! It is everything in between the two camps that is beautiful. Sometimes when I walk through thickly wooded areas, I just wish to sit down and breathe in the smell of the forest. I like to touch the wild iris, or simply stand taking in the view and then click a picture.
4. Packing Lists
A lot of websites give a long packing list. Carry what makes sense to you. I make sure that I have warm clothes (including a down jacket) a decent rain gear, a torch and comfortable clothes. It makes sense to wear a full track pant (anything that covers your legs) as then you are protected against thorns and bushes. I drink water out of a normal water bottle. See what you feel necessary and cut out on fluff. If you don’t have a sleeping bag, it can be hired.
5. Water Sources are Important
However much you may like a spot, campsites are established near water sources. Once the camp is set, water is required both for drinking and cooking. If you are 5 kilometers away from the water source it will make everyone’s life miserable. So, listen to your guides because they know the water sources. I do not use purifying tablets when I am trekking in India. But once again that is an individual call and depends on what you are used to.
It is imperative to maintain a good liquid intake while trekking or one can get dehydrated and dizzy very quickly on the mountains. Drink juice, drink tea, drink soup, drink water, just drink something. Alcohol is not counted as legitimate liquid intake. I fill the water bottle from any flowing stream. Photo credit for this shot to my nephew Dilip Dwivedi aka brat 1.
7. Call of Nature
On most of the treks, other than the tea house ones, the call of the nature has to answered in the open. Stay away from water sources and do not contaminate them.
On tea house treks there are guest houses along the way so you stay under a roof rather than a tent. Valley of Flowers if one such trek in Uttarakhand India. Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit treks in Nepal are also tea house treks.
8. Trekking Shoes
It is imperative that you break in your trekking shoes if you bought a new pair. And if you wear a sneaker on your first trek like me, you will slip and slip and slip on snow! And then you will learn your lesson like me and never wear them again particularly if there is snow! Having a good pair of shoes that has been broken-in can make all the difference to your trek! It is no fun to trek with blisters.
Food is cooked when tents are pitched at the next campsite, which usually doesn’t happen by lunch. So, you may get a packed lunch at the best. While trekking the main meals are breakfast and dinner.
10. Loud Noises
I take a strong exception to loud noises on a trek. You see, I pay all that money to get away from the noises of the city. You are not cool if you are shouting at the top of your voice while walking, others are walking on the same trail to find some peace and quiet.
And may you drop the music system from the sheerest cliff if you are carrying one and playing it at full volume. Trekking and loud noises simply don’t mix. Stay away in the cities and go to the nightclubs instead. Trekking is not for you.
11. Pay Attention to the Altitude
As we go up higher, the air gets thinner. As it gets thinner it becomes difficult to breathe. At higher altitudes our body needs to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen in the air. Otherwise we would get altitude sickness. It happens if we ascent very rapidly and gain a lot of height at a very fast pace. research about altitude sickness particularly if you are going above 10,000 feet.
12. Carry Your Medicines
It goes without saying that you need to carry your medicines on the trek. There are no medicine shops once you leave the starting town. If you have any health concerns, you need to consult your doctor too.
13. Nights without Electricity
As soon as the sun goes down, it gets dark, remember there is no electricity. It becomes pitch dark after a while. Kitchen tent becomes the communal hub. After meals either people talk to each-other, sing songs or else they take out the tripod and try night photography. There are a billion more stars in the sky on such trails.
All the night sounds get magnified. I have heard people say that they didn’t like the sound of the stream at night! I myself find it a bit uncomfortable to hear the horses (on some treks they carry the load) munching just nearby our tents. If you lead the tent flap open a frog may decide to hop in. Some insects are commonly inside the tent, attracted by the small tent light!
That brings me to the topic of tents. If you do not have a tent you can easily hire it. The places from where you start the trek, like Joshimath, Uttarkashi or Manali are easy hubs for hiring trekking equipment.
A first time trekker once asked me, “So can anyone open my tent from outside?” It only dawned on me then that the answer is yes, I was effectively sleeping out in the open. And that is why having reliable guides is a must particularly if it is an all women group.
If it snows the tents collapse from the weight of the snow. You are then required to sit and hit against the tent roof to clear the snow deposit. A whole night of snow is no fun when you are in a tent as you would be up all night hitting at the tent roof.
15. Trekking with Children
It is possible to trek with children but then the trek must be geared towards their comfort. We used to send our daughter, Chhavi, up on a pony when she was smaller. She now walks all the way on easy treks, but we make sure that it is an easy trek. Since we adopted her my husband and I never trekked together, because adult treks are not suited for her. We take turns to do tough treks, one of us stays with her at home while the other one is out there building character!
No one can predict the weather. Whatever you get, you have to grin and bear it. When Chhavi and I went to Deoria Tal all we got was clouds. I still sulk looking at the amazing pictures that others have posted on the internet. But then it is part of the game. Sometimes the weather cooperates and sometimes it says, “thou shall not pass!” Respect the weather, respect the mountains.
17. Being Fit
If you are moderately fit you will enjoy your trek more. It is no fun to do a trek on sheer will power and I am saying this from personal experience. Walking everyday for an hour or so will make a difference on easy to moderate treks. Once you have done a few treks, you will anyway not need my advice on how fit you need to be!
18. Money Matters
It is more cost effective to trek if you are in a group. If 5 friends are trekking the fixed cost gets divided by 5. The variable cost doesn’t go up by so much! Be careful as there would be no bank, no ATM on your trekking route. But then there are no shops either. If your team forgot the salt and realized it after 5 hours of walking, the salt can now be bought by going back on the trial! You may only take 3 hours to get down but that is how far away the salt it. You do meet shepherds and occasional village folks on the trail. Offer them tea and they may find salt for you from their tents!
19. Try a Day Hike
If you are not sure if trekking is for you, try a day hike. You go on a 5 hour walk but come back to your hotel in the evening. If you like it, next time don’t come back. Stay in a tent, go on a trek! If you don’t like it chances are you will not like trekking.
20. Nature on a Grand Scale
For me trekking is about being with nature. It is nature on the grand scale. We from the cities are not used to valleys big as many football fields. I so like to call them home, even if for a few days.
21. Don’t Litter
It goes without saying, do not throw trash. Bring all wrappers and bottles back with you.
22. It Builds Character
Seshadri and I are very fond of saying that trekking builds the character! It is difficult to explain the sentiments behind this feeling. But you are away from civilization, most of your gadgets conk off as there is no electricity to charge them anyway. There are no shops, there is nothing, other than trees, mountains, streams and such things. There is some amount of discomfort involved in trekking, you do get tired. If it rains you walk in rain. All this, we firmly believe helps in building character!
23. Listen to Your Guides
The mountains are the backyard of your guides. They are the locals, you are the novice. It pays to listen to them. It pays to select them carefully and it pays to retreat when they tell you to get down due to bad weather or any other reason. I have given up on more treks than I would ever care to remember either due to bad weather or bad health. As long as I get back in one piece I can go back and complete that trek the next time. The key is to get back in one piece.
In this post on tips for first time trekkers, I have truly raked my brains to cover as many areas as possible. If you still have a question, do drop them in the comment box and I will try to answer them as well.
They say one of the best advices in photography is to ‘slow down’. I somehow feel it is an advice that I would do well to heed in life as well. It is one of those days when everything feels just like a mad rush. But then I will restrict myself to photography thoughts only.
I understand the merit of the advice. That is why I like walking so much. That way if I like something, I often have an option to stop and click it. On the other hand it makes me incredibly slow. On a trek I take 8 hours to reach from one village to another whereas if I took a flight within the same time I would reach London!
When expert photographers say slow down they mean really slow down. I remember seeing a picture for which the photographer said it took him one month to get the sky right. I remember reading a comment by Steve Winter that it took him 23 days on elephant back to capture this shot. Now that kind of slow a lot of us cannot afford, I certainly cannot afford.
So for me slow had to be defined in my own context. If I get to travel for 5 nights that is a big trip for me! I might cover two destinations within those five days! But still I believe there is a chance for going slow for everyone.
I am usually in a terrible hurry when I click pictures, I don’t know why. I always feel I am in someone or other’s way and I should take my shot quickly and get out of the way. Phew I said it. This when I would have been invited to attend that event! So for me the first step towards slowing down would be get rid of the feeling that I am in the way!
For me slowing down would also mean chimping, as that too takes some time and more importantly ‘thought’ on what I see on the screen.
For me slowing down would mean researching my destination a little more. That would mean I would know what type of pictures to be on a look out for. But as of now evening packing happens so last minute! Researching has just not been on my list anywhere.
But I think for me the biggest change would be to get rid of that feeling of being in someone’s way! That way I would stand peacefully and take those extra seconds to click my pictures. That is how small a start I wish to make.
It is time to get back to the simple photography tips in 2015. So here are three more for you to consider, critique and play around with. Once again I am focusing on tips that can be used with any camera.
1. Altering the Perspective
Most of shoot a picture standing straight at the eye level. Since almost everyone does that, it leads to a very similar perspective in our photographs. So it pays to change the perspective. I took this picture on the Redang Island in Malaysia where I was traveling with a bunch of 100 media people from all over Asia. And I saw people going great lengths for getting a different perspective!
Now I will be truthful, I have not gone on my elbows and knees but I have gone on my knees. It is easier to bend and put my cell phone really down towards the ground! I will happily climb up to get a better picture or a different view. So next time give it a try! And if you are curious as to what he was clicking he was clicking baby turtles released on the beach.
2. Slowing Down
Most of us have a limited amount of time to spend at any location. There have been countless trips where I would like to spend more time at a particular location to get a feel of it. Alas it doesn’t happen for various reasons. We are in a hurry, we are part of a group or we have a restless child with us. I am sure you have many more to add too.
I clicked the picture above while I was standing on a hillock in Batal. I had all the time in the world. I could see my nephew and others walking back. I wanted to include them as dots against the mountain to show the scale. Now if this was a hurried climb to the hill with a big group I am not sure I would even notice them walking on the road. Maybe that is why I like walking so much, that way if I see something interesting, I can always stop and click a picture!
3. Shooting in All Light
I love golden hours. However, as I realized that are a lot more hours of light other than golden hours and I am usually out visiting interesting places at all time of the day. I still sulk a lot when I am someplace interesting in harsh light. I sulk equally when it is all mist and clouds.
But I am slowly getting around to taking pictures irrespective of the weather. I took this one on a foggy day in Gulmarg.
Let me know how do you find this set of tips!