Featured: Girl on The Mountains

Saini, a fellow schoolmate and now an avid trekker who juggles her work life and desire for hiking by constantly being on the move very generously agreed to answer all my questions. She balances her 9 to 5 routine and still manages to head out of the city almost every weekend to places that are breathtaking and to be honest seem very unrealistic. I was stunned at some of her responses and at some, I could only nod in affirmation. Her passion fueled by enthusiasm is what drew me towards doing this short post. Let’s see what she said over my queries.

You’ve completed over 100 treks. What made you pursue trekking/which trek made you believe that this can be a getaway from all the negativity?

A friend signed me up for my first trek in February 2015. I walked in negative temperatures in freezing winter of Ladakh. I realized that I was completely unprepared and had blindly gone for it. It was also an eye-opener as I was nearing 25, and while not extremely overweight, I was quite unfit. A 60-year-old trekker in my group was fitter than I was. The experience hit me hard. Ever since I started working, I had stopped paying attention to my fitness. I decided that to address that and try to adopt a healthier lifestyle. What I took away from that first trek also, was that I couldn’t fully enjoy the mountains, which I wanted to. So I signed up for another trek in August, which was a much better experience. I also enjoyed the simplicity of life on the trail.  Walking on rough patches makes you forget everything, and singularly focus on your goal. Everything about trekking stayed with me even when I returned. So I kept signing up for more treks, and then there was no turning back!

How do you manage trekking and blogging while working a full-time job?

Many folks ask me this question. Honestly, there is no magic formula. You need beg, borrow and steal every slot of free time you have. Some pointers of what it takes to manage a passion with a job:

  • Planning: I meticulously plan my free time. Every long weekend, every public holiday, I block those days well in advance. I get 20 days of leave a year, and I block all those in January. This is a win-win for your company and you. They have better visibility on your year, they cannot ask you to cancel leaves blocked well in advance, and blocking them pushes you to create a plan around them.
  • Prioritization: If you want to achieve 20 things in your free time, you will have to divide your limited time among all those, leaving you with very little time for each. Once I realized I enjoy trekking, I singularly immersed myself in it. Most of my leaves and free time is taken up by reading/writing about the mountains, planning for my treks, and of course actually trekking. I gave up alcohol, as it was hampering my fitness for trekking, and while most of my colleagues spend Friday night partying in the newest pub, I am packing my bag or traveling overnight to go for a trek.
  • Work-life balance: Always remember that your job is a part of your life and not your entire life. While I am at work, I utilize my weekdays and get the most out of it with a consistent goal to keep my weekends free. I proactively remind colleagues when I would be unreachable on treks, and inform everyone about my availability well in advance. While my organization has a culture of weekend work and canceling leaves for work emergencies, I try to minimize work creeping into my personal time.

Why did you think it was important to start blogging about your trek experiences?

I saw myself and the folks I trekked transform over the years we have been trekking. We went from being clueless about trekking to planning and executing treks, finding trails, working with limited resources, and finding trails on routes seldom visited. As I shared my experiences anecdotally within my network, I realized there are many things I learned that would be helpful to share with those who were new, or maybe doubtful of trekking. I have always enjoyed writing, so I thought that kicking off my lethargy and trying to share my knowledge and experiences might actually reach those who were looking for it. So, ‘Girl on the mountains’ was born!  

Which has been your most thrilling and possibly life-threatening trek till date?

I had gone to Manali for a trek to Bhrigu lake. It is an easy trek, which takes about 4 days to do. We had planned to do it in 2 days. On day 1, we went off the main trail, and walked along a trail that was used by local shepherds. After walking over an hour, we were not gaining any altitude and so we decided to scramble up instead of going all the way back to find the trail. We were facing a valley, and the entire ascent was on loose rocks and water streams, with heavy backpacks making us off-balance. By the time we reached the plateau on top, it was pitch dark, and rain clouds had gathered. Soon, it started drizzling, and we had no hope of finding our campsite for the night. So we pitched our tent on a very uneven and windy patch to avoid walking in the rain, and spent a restless night wondering where we were. Thankfully, the next day was clear, and we found the campsite and the trail within half an hour of walking. But, my friend developed altitude sickness because of our rapid ascent and lack of acclimatization, and we had a long day. The trek taught me a valuable lesson to never go on a trail unprepared, and to always keep buffer time for unforeseen events.

What would you like to tell people especially females who have some myths about trekking?

As a woman, venturing out in the mountains, especially with the limited female company can be quite daunting. From my experience, however, I can confidently say that experiencing a trek forms a stronger bond between people than anything else. I have walked solo or joined trek groups as a single woman, and always left with friends that I am still in touch with. Do not let the lack of company deter you from trekking!
Another important factor for most women is maintaining hygiene on a trek. While it is true that managing personal hygiene, especially when you are on your period is important on a trek, it is not very difficult. Always keep sanitary napkins or tampons with you even if you aren’t expecting your period because the mountains and physical activity can impact your cycle. Always keep toilet paper, and some old newspapers to keep yourself clean (make sure you do not leave non-biodegradable waste in the mountains!). Also, don’t shy away from asking for help (even from male trekkers) and helping someone.

If this was TL;DR I urge you to check out Saini’s Instagram that is filled with eye-pleasing lush green and does not fail on the zen meter. Also, check her website for more trekking related topics and her trekking blogs.

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