Forget taking a flight to Dubai and shopping for Gucci at a plush mall. Going on a holiday, trekking, covered in grime and gasping for breath, is the new cool! We walk you through the details…
Sweaty hikes through punishing jungle, challenging climbs at gruesome heights, endless roads on steaming motorbikes.
Vacations have changed.
“We have spent three days and nights in the jungle, walking through tough terrain, swimming though deep waters and climbing over high rocks,” says Peter Van Geit, founder of The Chennai Trekking Club, trying to explain what drives the almost-6,000 members of this rapidly-growing club to constantly challenge themselves this way. He talks of the joys of exploring the unexplored. “We discover places never visited before,” he says, discussing how they discover new routes with maps and a GPS device.
Though he states that they're “pretty good with navigation”, these kind of exploratory treks inevitably throw up surprises. “On a recent 10-day trek, we got stuck 15 times,” he says. “Suddenly, we'd hit a 100m high vertical block of stone, and find alternative trails around it.”
Think getting lost in the jungle is rough? Factor in backpacks holding camping gear, clothes and food, which usually weigh between eight and 10 kg.
“Remember, a 10-day trek requires 30 meals.” After all, the team has to be completely self-reliant during the journey, as they often have little or no contact with the outside world.
Intense treks require training, endurance and stamina. Although there are plenty of options for beginners, Peter says most members work on improving their fitness, so they can try a more challenging trek each time. He says: “Fifty per cent is in the mind — you must have the mindset, the power to push ahead.”
Gaurav Punj, founder of Connect With Himalaya, agrees. “It's only the first day that people find it difficult. More than physical exhaustion, it's their mental blocks that they need to work on,” he says, explaining why trekking can be such a powerful tool in normal everyday life.
After all, a pile of boring paperwork will seem like a breeze after executing a cliff jump into the freezing Ganga.
Gaurav's expeditions range from relaxed yoga holidays in Rishikesh to intense exploratory climbs on the Kohlai glacier, trails over the Chang-thang plateau to the Tso Moriri Lake and Kinner Kailash camping expeditions, in the middle of the greater Himlayan range.
“Over the last two years, I've noticed that people who had been vacationing abroad now want to travel within India, on adventure trips,” says Gaurav, explaining why he gave up life in the Californian corporate world after a degree at Berkley, to trek for a living. “Most holidays are very similar in structure, whether you're in Greece or Thailand — city sightseeing, hotels, food. People were getting fed up of that kind of vacation.”
Testing the limits
Gaurav talks of how people enjoy the challenge of testing their limits. He should know.
He spent most of his life either trekking or planning his next holiday in the Himalayas, till he made it his profession. This is what enables him to take people away from the tediously trodden paths. “There's now scope for someone who can plan exciting treks for urban India,” he says, adding: “My simple funda? I run this company because I love travelling.”
And, that's how Dinesh K.S., founder-director of Wildcraft, got started too. An avid climber and trekker, he roughed it across the Himalayas, from Ladakh to Sikkim, on borrowed, imported and second-hand gear.
“Harnesses, rucksacks, tents, sleeping bags — none of this was available in India in the early 1990s. We either asked friends coming in from Europe to bring it, or travelled across the border to Nepal to buy it there.” Nepal, after all, has had an established adventure market for decades. “Millions of people go there every year to trek and climb. When they're leaving, most of them sell their equipment to the local sherpas. Thamel has 50 to 100 shops specialising in used equipment, all of which was better than what was available in India.”
Today Wildcraft is India's best known company for adventure gear. They stock everything from collapsible jerry cans to carabiners, pulleys and static ropes. “When Wildcraft was registered in 1993, it was a very naive idea,” admits Dinesh. “It was a struggle for the first eight years. We started making purely outdoor products, and there were hardly any takers.”
Things have changed dramatically. Over the last 10 years, people have been demanding more and more specific equipment, as holidays get increasingly adventurous. “We have branched out, steadily increasing our sales of backpacks, sleeping bags and tents, as well as flotation device, ropes and harnesses.” Dinesh says, adding that customers are also increasingly open to new ideas.
After all, the country's growing tribe of thrill seekers uses every opportunity to dive into the woods, mountains and rivers. Braving exhaustion, perpetual griminess and ghastly muscle cramps, they're simultaneously conquering new terrain and old fears. All for the ultimate satisfaction of physical exhaustion, and the accompanying mental relaxation.
Backpacks holding camping gear, clothes and food, usually weigh between eight and 10 kg
A 10-day trek requires 30 meals. The team has to be completely self-reliant during the journey
There's little or no contact with the outside world