Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Molestation and its media coverage

I am torn. On one hand, we all need to raise awareness. Groping is not acceptable. Molestation is not acceptable. Rape is not acceptable. The more we talk about it - in the mainstream media, social media, in our workplaces, homes, schools and colleges, on the streets, everywhere - the more that will get understood. But I do not want India or any city or town or street to be branded as the “rape capital” or “molestation town” or “grope street” of the world.

Yet another molestation incident

Women are molested in public in Bengaluru, in mass. Bengaluru's posh Brigade Street earns the shameful moniker as the “Grope Street” for the largest numbers of groping per square foot. Supposed legislators of the country make more shameful statements that make you wonder if he lives in India or in Taliban country. But that’s not all. A glance at the comments below the YouTube videos covering this legislator’s statements or news articles covering the New Year’s Eve incidents, some people - both men and women - are stating similar things as that legislator. “If women go out at night, what else do they expect”, “Why do they wear western clothes and invite attention?” “If they drink and go out at night, aren’t they only asking for it!”

The same night in Bengaluru a woman returning from work walked the short distance from the where auto-rickshaw dropped her to her house. She was caught by two men on that short walk home and she was molested.

But New Year’s Eve is not the only time when women are molested. As I wrote on my blog in March 2015, women in India face varying degrees of molestation anywhere, anytime. Whatever possible, whenever possible, however possible, men want a piece of it...anything for a feel of a woman's flesh. Women do not need to be out at New Year’s Eve, drunk or not drunk, to be groped or molested or raped. They could just be going to school or college or work and it could happen. Or it could happen in their home.

Many people watched the movie “Pink” and raved about it as a movie that everyone should watch and show their daughters and sons. However, how many of the same people think differently when an incident like Bengaluru takes place - that if a woman is out in the night on New Year’s Eve, what she was wearing - jeans and T-shirt, or skirt or dress, or saree or salwar suit - determines if she deserved to be molested? How many think that what she drank - whether it had alcoholic content or whether it was just fruit juice or tea or coffee- determines if she deserved it or not? How many think the time she is out - day or night, before 12 AM or after 12 AM - determines if she asked for it.

What is shocking about the statement of ministers who say that “this happens routinely” (“aisa hota hai”) is that it may just be echoing the minds of many who think women “ask for it”. Minds that think the primary responsibility of women staying safe should lie with women - so basically, they should stay at home, or if they do step outside, they should be accompanied by a male member - NOT a boyfriend (as by that too, she is “asking for it” as boyfriends are a western concept?), but husband or another male family member. And they should dress “appropriately”. But guess what, when individuals molest women or when mobs strike, that male person accompanying the woman cannot do anything. For that matter, even 1500 police can’t do anything when it is happening. After the incident, police cannot catch the molesters, even though some of them may have their faces shown in the CCTV coverage. And what about the women who get groped and molested just going about their daily work or studies - nothing wrong with their clothes, but surely they must have given some kind of a “look” that invited groping and molestation?

Media coverage

I titled my blogpost in 2015 as the Great Indian disease. Knowing well that this does not happen only in India, I wrote about what I and many women face(d) in India. The intent is to ensure that people’s mind sets start changing among men and women. The intent is that people take molestation and rape seriously. The intent is that women start talking about the difficulties and insecurities they face with their body - because by talking about it, they will raise awareness. And hopefully people will not judge them as having “invited” a molestation, or “asked for it”.

This Singapore newspaper clip is of two Malaysian ladies who were molested at a party on New Year’s Eve at Sentosa. But in Singapore, men and women and girls and boys are safely traveling by public transport on a daily basis, or flocking the streets in huge numbers for festive celebrations without groping incidents. The same newspaper in Singapore posts news of men who are sentenced to years of jail and caning for groping a woman’s breast, or a yoga instructor touching a woman’s upper thigh, or any kind molestation. Interestingly, in every news report, the picture displayed in the news is of the molester and not of the victim. Each time the news is posted on the crime and on the criminal getting caught and sentenced, I believe it deters other criminals.
Women all over the world face the brunt of the show of power among men - through kidnap and rape, molestation and violence. And it’s not okay anywhere in the world.

I feel sad when in so many forums outside India (not just by mainstream international media), incidents that take place against women in India get mileage. In addition to Indian mainstream media covering the Bengaluru molestation incident, the New York Times, The Guardian, Straits Times are among many who have covered this incident. As they cover other such incidents that occur in India. And each time, those living outside India and in India believe every woman in India has been or will be raped, or every woman who steps into any part of the country is a target of molestation. One just needs to take a look at the comments in the local news, or discussions among locals to understand the extent to which India gets branded as the worst place for any woman. Which is not the case. India is a wonderful country with ample opportunity for women who shine and rise. Albeit just as in many places around the world, the women in public spaces here too need to keep one eye (often both eyes and a sharp object at hand) on their whereabouts to ensure there is no untoward advance made toward them.

So dear Indian and international media, if you could please do away with the monikers and labels you are so enthusiastically doling out. Covering these incidents through sensational headlines and labels do catch eyeballs and are great click-baits for you. But please figure out how to balance out your news. There is a lot to be done to ensure women can rightfully claim public spaces. That is why I support movements like #WhyLoiter where women are encouraged to step into and “loiter” in public spaces in large numbers to make it safer for them to be in them. We don't need to be at home to stay safe, rather more of us need to be out to ensure we are making it safer for ourselves and for other women in public spaces.

It is movements like these and many others, and conversations at home and in workplaces, in schools and in colleges, on a regular basis that will help change the mind set and establish a common understanding that women have a natural right to be safe in public spaces. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Life lessons for our children to pick up from trekking in the mountains

It has been a few years since I've been going for treks to the Himalayas. Last year my then 12 year old daughter joined me for a 7 day Himalayan trek to the Great Lakes of Kashmir. It was not an easy trek even for us adults, and as the only child in our group (and going by our discussions with the soldiers at the army posts, possibly the youngest to go on that trekking trail), she too found it challenging in some parts. The previous year, my son had been with another group for a trek to Auli in the Uttarakhand region of the Himalayas. Before that, we had been taking our children for shorter treks in the Sahyadri mountains in Maharashtra. By the end of the Kashmir trek, it was truly an eye opener for me to watch my daughter manage herself through all the excitement, challenges and jubilation of the trekking and camping experience. I could see from up close, the fabulous life lessons that these experiences have to offer children and us. 

Trekking and camping in the mountains teaches children to experience the world through new eyes. It also teaches them a lot about themselves.

“I can’t use my mobile phone for five days? But I can’t live without it even for a day!”
“I can’t possibly walk for so many hours!”
“What if I can’t eat or drink anything they serve me there?”

City life brings its share of frustrations for children and for parents, as nature spots are reduced and opportunities to experience the open environs are limited. On one hand, children’s absorption with mobile phones, games, television and online media are making them more house-bound. On the other hand, avenues for out-of-home activities are limited to venues such as malls, restaurants and cinemas. Being disconnected from nature and outdoor activities, accompanied by an increasingly protected lifestyle among urban children, is limiting our children’s capabilities to adapt to different situations – both physically and mentally.

The mountains offer exciting terrains for climbing uphill or running through lush green meadows; walking through slush, or leaping over boulders; crossing over or wading through streams. The experience of camping means packing and unpacking every day, tucking into sleeping bags at night, sharing a tent with others, and eating what everyone is eating, and much more. The experience of trekking and camping in the mountains is a great way for children to expand their physical and mental faculties and have loads of fun while at it. Children develop a stronger resilience and endurance as they begin to appreciate that not only can they physically handle a lot more than they thought they could. But they are also capable of being responsible for themselves and adapting to a variety of conditions that they otherwise have not been exposed to.

Often in the midst of the mountains, Nature also achieves what most of us struggle with: get children to unplug from technology, soak in the beauty and develop a personal connect with their surrounding. Some treks incorporate offbeat routes and stays in mountain villages that help children gain an insight into how people lead their lives in remote places – how their houses are built, how their sheep and goat are grazed, how for many, their ways of life have remained unchanged for centuries.

There is an entire range of experienced trekking groups to send our children with, and several locations to choose from. Here are some ways you can get them started. Whether or not you as parents have been trekkers, you can still get your children started on experiencing the wonders of trekking. Younger children can be encouraged by giving them a taste of the outdoors in nature spots in your vicinity. Start by heading out for walks in and around nature parks, hills, ponds or lakes around you. Middle school children can take on short treks - either day long or overnight treks. Older children can take on 5-7 day treks. If you are unable to join them yourselves, sign them up through trekking groups that have strong experience in conducting these treks. 

So get them started on trekking and watch them build endurance, resilience and adaptability. It's a great way to convert "I can’t do this” and “I can’t do without this” into "can-do"

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Yesterday, I shared this on faith. "'Faith is believing in what you cannot see, and the reward is seeing what you have believed in". We can only, in hindsight, connect the dots."

Someone later asked me to explain it. Here are some of my thoughts. Would love to understand your thoughts too...

Faith, to me, is not about God.
It is not about religion, of any kind.
It is not about temples.
It is not about idols. Or any ritualistic tenets.

Faith, to me, is our own personal and individual equation with the universe and with energy.
Faith in a belief that everything...all matter, all actions, all energy.
We can't see or have evidence of all forms of energy.
   Or of the flow of energy.
But we can believe in none or some or all forms of energy.
   And in the flow of energy.

The energy are all the dots - the matter, the actions, the thoughts... ...Our own and through our interaction with the universe.
And the flow is the connection between the dots.

Faith is not blind.
Faith does not even claim to know everything.
But it is sincere
It is sincere in its attempt to gain a clearer appreciation of the secret depths of the universe.

I was asked for an example of faith...

When we pick someone as our life partner, we may be all rosy about the future together. Or we may be badly scarred from previous relationships. Or we may be indifferent.
In any case, when we do decide to marry, it is not coming from a faith in ourselves, or faith in our to-be-spouse. Nor is it coming from a faith in love, or from faith in the institution of marriage. But we still take that leap of faith...a faith in "something". It is only later, in hindsight, as the relationship between the partners the form of actions, words, messages, deeds, thoughts...we can connect the dots, we can make some sense of the relationship.

And it's a continuous process. As everything is energy. And energy flows.

The same applies to our relationship with the universe.

On a spectrum, faith is on one end. And on the other end is expectation.
The expectation is for evidence...signs, actions, words...proof.
But if there is evidence...if everything is already there even a place for faith ? As then, all we have to do is observe what is already proven.

"Faith is believing in what you cannot see, and the reward is seeing what you have believed in". We can only, in hindsight, connect the dots.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Being there

Yesterday was Pithori Amavasya also celebrated as "Matrudin" or Mother's Day in the Hindu calendar. Found out it was that day yesterday while browsing something online. I typically am unable to differentiate most "special" days in the Hindu calendar from each other, mainly as there are so many. The treasured (by many Maharashtrians) "Kaalanirnay" almanac is treasured the most by my dear mother-in-law. But I am sure she has her very own in-built Kaalanirnay app embedded in her system. I know this because even when she is without her Kaalnirnay copy...such as this time when she forgot it in India during the last trip there (so now our house in India has two copies and no one in the house to be reminded of all those days), she still knows most of the many "special days" we have that can be potentially observed as festivals / auspicious days. I think it's her wonderful tracking mechanism that just lets her know how many days are past the full moon or no moon. And then the days get automatically tracked somewhere in her super system. And all this even though the exact date of the Roman calendar may not always be known to her. I never cease to be amazed at it. So for instance, I had heard from her a couple days ago that Thursday was "Pola" a special day marked in Maharashtra's villages when bulls have been traditionally worshipped for their immense contribution to farming. But I hadn't heard from her about Pithori Amavasya so when I found out it was, a lot of memories came flooding in. 
Pithori Amavasya brought to mind vivid pictures of childhood when in our family, it was celebrated as "Matrudin" or Mothers Day. On this day, Aai (as we called my mum) would have a fixed menu she would make - "ukdiche modak" (sweet steamed dumplings made with a rice flour cover and coconut and jaggery filling), a sautéed green peas and coconut vegetable dish, rice kheer and varan-bhaat (varan, a simple dal made with toor dal, served with rice and a dollop of homemade ghee on top). She made this every year, irrespective of whether it was a week day or not. She'd get back from work and make all these dishes hot and steaming, serve the food on a banana leaf on a plate - for my brother and me.
And then my mother would sit down on a flat wooden seat in front of the "devgarh" (the place of worship in the house) and place the plate on her head with both her hands. My brother would stand behind her, also holding the plate, both his hands resting on hers. And then she would ask him:
"Jali asta haath dey
Vani asta saath dey
Majhya paathi maage kon aahe?"
And he answered with:
"Mee aahe!"
Roughly translated, it will read as follows (though the translation really does take the poetic warmth and charm out of it)
"If I'm in water, and in need of a hand
If I'm in the forest, and in need of company
Who is behind me?"
And answer was: "I am!"
And she would ask this thrice totally and he would answer thrice. And then she would pass the plate to my brother. 
And then she would take the second plate, and I would stand behind her in the same manner and the verse would be repeated with me. And then both my brother and I would proceed to enjoy the steaming hot delicacies made by her. 
This simple gesture was done every year on Pithori Amavasya day and we always observed this as Matrudin or Mothers Day. I always thought this was the sweetest thing we did and said to our mother. When we said what we did...all saying it three times and felt like we were making a solemn promise to ourselves. That whatever happens, we will be there for her. That when in need, we are there to take care of her. 
If we had a visiting cousin (since my uncles and aunts lived closeby) or a friend who happened to be there that evening or was staying with us, banana leaf plates would be prepared for them too. And they too would get to say the "Mee ahe!" if they wanted to. 
As we had always done this in our home and some of my other aunts also observed it in a similar manner in their homes, I came to believe it was passed down from my father's mother to her daughters-in-law. I hadn't seen this practice observed at my in-laws and after I had children, somehow with the demands on time, I never got around to observe Mother's Day in this special and beautiful way at my own home. Do you know if Mother's Day was traditionally observed like this or any other way anywhere else too in India? Would love to hear from you. 
And on this Mother's Day, I'd like to wish a Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful people here who end up playing motherly roles for various people in their lives. Coz the more I pay attention to that verse we recited as children, wasn't it about "being there" as parents for our parents in their time of need...whatever that need would come up mean. And I've come to understand that "mother" or "child" does not just come from who you're born to...or who you've given birth to...or from whether you're a man or woman. 
It's so much more than that. Coz who we are mother to or child to comes as much from "being there" for someone in their time of need. I've come to understand that that someone could be anyone..our parents, our spouse's parents, a friend, a relative, a stranger...Also our parents may become not only children to us at some time, but as they are adult children and our erstwhile parents too, they can be quite stubborn children to us. 
I've come to understand that "being there" for someone in their time of need is a privilege as well as an opportunity we all get at some or the other time in our lives. And we need to remember that when someone is in need, they don't always like it that they're in need. They'd much rather be able to fend for themselves and take care of themselves. So the grace with which we are there for someone matters as much as being there for someone. How we deal with it, with them and most importantly with it all in our minds...THAT makes the difference. That's not to say being there for someone with grace means it will all make it easy...that we won't get frustrated or tired sometimes. That our routine will not be disturbed. That our little cocoon of life we've built for ourselves with such pain and effort will not be disrupted to some or more degree. But if we can just bring in the perspective that their time of need will in the long term come to pass, and our routine and cocoon of life will fall back in place, we can bring in grace to our being there and to our care giving. 
Having recently myself been in a position to be there for someone, but in my act of giving also needing to be a child to someone, I can only feel immense gratitude for both - the opportunity to be there for someone, and for the friend who mothered me in my time of need. 
"If I'm in water, and in need of a hand
If I'm in the forest, and in need of company
Who is behind me?"
And the answer for me and for that mother-friend of mine was: "I am!"

With my love to all,

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Oh to see you be like the birds
To sing, to take off, to soar
To know what is to be alive
And free at its very core

To bring young ones into the world
To feed them and watch them grow
Help them take wings each day
Only to one day, let them go

And while tending to them
Keep your own wings strong
Knowing your own time to fly
Isn't ever truly gone

So why weren't you more like the birds
That you carved your own limits
Got so caught up in your duties
That you forgot to feed your spirit

So keep your songs intact and your wings strong
Don't ever let them go lame
The ground is as much yours
As the sky is yours to claim

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Here forever. Gone forever.

Not able to comprehend last trip to India was an emotional one. Maybe it had to do with it coinciding with what would have been my dad's 81st birthday. And it coming close to what will be his first death anniversary.
It was not my first trip in the last one year. But the sense of loss that kept creeping up on me was intense. Losing one parent is crushing (It took me twelve years to pen something down after my mother's death.
Then you lose another...
When you think of it, it's not like we are "orphaned" in our 40s. But we are orphaned. And it does not matter what age we are when they're gone. Or what age they were when they're gone...

I feel so fortunate to have had the parents I did. And I know they would only want me to be strong and positive and live life head-on.
A few lines penned down in memory of my dearest Appa...

Gone forever. Here forever.

How long does it take
For the pain to numb down
The sharp pangs of loss
Now too well known

Your face looms up in a picture
Vivid memories from our talks
Of so many things I learnt from you
You were always there as my rock

Knowing that the rock is no more
And that sense of intense loss?
Does it keep growing in strength
Like a stone gathering moss?

Your eyes sparkling with mischief
The laughter ready in your voice
A constant source of strength you were
For so many, their go-to-man of choice

The memories...
Of favourite songs you sang
Or your idioms of family fame
Mostly, I keep recalling
When your voice called out my name

And then, the last few days of your life
That you came to spend with me
Under my care and vigil
Tending to your every whim

How's it that you came to me
Not so much as a father, but as a baby
Demanding every minute of mine
Calling for me as a child would his mummy

Call me daddy, call out to me
I hope I was there for you
Through all the times
When you wanted me near you

You came to a land afar
And touched a hundred new lives
With your stories of grit and wisdom
For the young and old alike

What gives us solace
Is that your end was swift
Hopefully you didn't feel much pain
As your life made the lift...

...Upward and onward to another place
From where I know you watch
All that's going on with us
As you live forever with us

How long does it take
For the pain to numb down
It will never go, I know
As you're gone forever.
I know.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Himalayan Trek - The Great Lakes of Kashmir

It's that time again when the mountains beckon, and you know another trek is on the cards. I had skipped an April trek in Uttarakhand, wanting to explore the Himalayas differently. And different it was...with the Great Lakes of Kashmir trek, a 6 days-7 nights trek that starts from Sonmarg and goes deep into the mountains, passes and valleys of Kashmir.

This time around, I will describe the trek, not so much through a day-by-day account, but as snippets of what the eyes, heart and mind experience while there. Hope it gives you a glimpse of what I felt, and hope it inspires some of you to go experience it yourself too.


We are just beginning to settle down for lunch on the mountain slopes on our descent to Naranag on the last day of the trek. Suddenly from behind us, two gun-bearing soldiers dressed commando style charge down the slopes from behind us, one of them shouting "Idhar milega. Idhar milega". Tensed with the thought of who could be coming from the pine forests below, we stopped all our work to stare at them...until one of them stretched his hand out on the slope below to check if he was catching mobile network. 

The armed forces make their presence felt on this trek as I've never experienced on other treks.  They are first visible as soon as you land in Srinagar, with small groups of armed forces on the sides of the roads and dotting the landscape within the thickets of trees and along farms of rice, corn and apple or walnut on our way to Sonmarg. There are three army checkposts we come across on our trekking trail, the first is at the trek's start from Sonmarg. The military is posted here mainly for the safety and security of trekkers, this being a popular trekking trail among Indians and foreigners. When a foreigner trekker didn't report out from the other end of the trail a few weeks earlier, these army men had gone looking for her and only when they found out she had exited the trail at another point, they were assured of her safety. 

The next Gadsar army checkpost turned out to be the location of our campsite on Day 4. Most of the jawans (soldiers) posted on this trekking trail are from Rashtriya Rifles. They are based here for months at a stretch, and with these locations receiving more than 20-22 feet of snow, the army will leave these posts starting November. You soon realize that the soldiers are as excited meeting you and talking with you, given how little interaction they'd have with others in these remote far flung locations. 

All checkposts proudly have the national flag fluttering, and four flags denoting the four leading religions of India - Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism. Somehow, seeing the Indian flag fluttering wildly in the wind in these remote locations tugs at the heartstrings in a way that leaves one feeling quite choked with emotion. 

The Satsar army checkpost along the way from Gadsar to Megandob on Day 5 was one such. Located at an altitude of 3800 meters and less than 20 kms from the Pakistan border, our entire group of sixteen sang the national anthem here with the soldiers with the flag flying high and our voices blowing in all directions with the strong winds. By the time we ended with Jai Hind!, we realized that not one of us was left dry-eyed. 


You get a good mix of terrain on this trekking trail. You wade through or cross streams and rivers (you're often best advised to take off your socks and shoes and wade through the shallow sections rather than trying to jump over the rocks and invariably slipping and getting yourself wet). 

You climb...or jump...over rocks and boulders, especially near the streams and rivers. At the this time of the year when the summer has melted most of the snow, you still see snow in the higher reaches and also get a little snow to walk over at some places. 


Forests - dense covers of pine, silver birch, maple - are found only on the first and last days of the trek. Other than that you don't get to see a single tree for majority of the way. 

But you don't really notice this fact, as your senses are filled with lush green grass all over mountain slopes, rolling meadows and valleys. It's the kind of green that not only provides a nice soft cushion for your feet as you walk hour after hour, day after day.
 It's also the kind of green that sends you very inviting messages to roll down the slopes, until the little stones and rocks embedded between the grass deter you from converting that thought into action. 


Early mornings usually have clouds that hang thick and low on the mountain slopes just in front of you, as if they've decided to sit down for a bit of rest from all their drifting around.

Even during summer (which is when this trail is best done), you often find yourself in the middle of clouds. At many times during the trek, especially when doing the long climbs to the summits, you find yourself walking in the clouds...with the cool mist in the clouds softly settling over you. 

On the way to Vishansar, you cross the stream and look above to see the steep ascent, wondering how you're going to do it. You start climbing and slowly you realize the thinner air is making your legs heavier and your breath shorter. Your steps gets smaller and you try to maintain a steady rhythm. You see you are following the stream in a reverse direction, climbing higher until the stream is a rapid waterfall. Climbing further until the waterfall is just a small rivulet again. But now the waters are surrounded by glaciers with the clouds floating all around, reducing visibility and giving everything around a mysterious foggy appearance. Some of the glaciers along the edges have neatly carved patterns on them resembling the walls of an igloo as remembered from schooldays. The air is still thinner, and you can feel the coolness - from both the high altitude and from the mist of the clouds. 


Not all mountains are green. Some are full of craggy black stony surfaces. The patches of snow on them try to soften their hard appearance...but as some hastily applied talcum powder, it does little to reduce its raw wildness. Others have sharply etched stone surfaces along their slopes making for interesting sedimentary patterns. Most of them have never been climbed, such as Mount Harmukh that at 5142 meters is the highest in that region of Kashmir and towers over Gangabal Lake, with some of its glacial waters still melting into the lake. The lake has another gushing waterfall on the opposite side that feeds water from the high mountains. This site was considered sacred by Hindu pilgrims before the Amarnath Yatra.


For the first two days, you're left wondering where the lakes are on the Great Lakes of Kashmir trail. Then they start appearing by the end of day 2 of the trek, all majestic and bright blue-green, and cosily nestled between mountains. 

There is the Vishansar lake that is viewed after a short walk from your campsite on Day 2. Kishensar Lake and its scenic surrounding form a constant and splendid view for you as you make your steep ascent on Day 3. 

The Gadsar lake makes a delightful appearance on Day 4 as you push your tired body anxiously waiting for your lunch break. When suddenly after a bend in the mountain, this stop appears in front of you with the river flowing into a bright blue-green lake. The brightly colored flowers in the grass also form a stark background for the beautiful black mountain at the back of the lake that has it own little waterfall spilling its icy contents into the lake. Can there be a more picturesque lunch spot?

Gangabal twin lakes (including Kolesar lake which the twin is known by) is the location of your last campsite, also providing a perfect spot for a dip in the cold waters of the lake or in the gushing waterfall adjoining it. 


Ascending mountains is hard and strenuous. Unlike the earlier treks I had done in the Uttarakhand Himalayan range, this route had not one, but many ascents to passes and summits upto 4300 mtrs (14000+ feet). During some ascents, we particularly felt the strain of the steep gradient and the thinner air of the high altitudes. Small baby steps was the mantra we picked up from some of our more experienced trekkers. Sometimes, you feel like you're just putting one foot in front of the other like a zombie, conversations between you and fellow trekkers reduced to grunts or gestures to pass the water bottles. 

Descents come in all varieties. Some include wider trails and roll smoothly along lush green meadows, such as what we experienced on days 2, 3 and 4 to Vishansar, Gadsar and Megandob via Satsar respectively. Other descents such as on days 5 and 6 are treacherous. 

And different trekkers take to descents differently. Some who can barely put one foot in front of the other on an ascent, suddenly start sprinting down almost as if a button has been switched on, and all they can do is run forward at full speed. 
Some others get taken up by fear of heights on the way down especially if the descent route is narrow and / or slippery. Over a few treks, most will realize that the fears have calmed down and a good steady pace help you reach your destination in a reasonable time and with lesser aches in your knees. 


Flowers! Anything that can be said about the flowers here will be inadequate. It is very interesting that at an altitude and climate where trees cannot survive, little flowers of so many varying shapes and colours not only survive but thrive so wonderfully. 
It is almost as if they are defying the terrain and saying "you may be all massive and tough, but I can still be little and flourish in my bright colours. You can loom over us all you want with your giant size, we are happy swaying with the wind so close to the ground". 

You see them on many large parts of the trail, providing a multi colored carpet over the valleys and the meadows, or looming their dainty pretty heads between the boulders along the rivers. Stretches of yellow flowers continue for vast distances, until purple varieties mingle with yellow...and then there's stretches of purple flowers. And so on with pink, orange, white, many different shades of blue. I tried to capture them on camera but every time you think you've seen them all, one more variety makes it appearance. Be careful not to spend too much time sitting or lazing about in the flowers as some of the flowers are said to create a heady feeling. 

At some places, you see rocks that have developed interesting patterns in bright red (from their iron) and fluorescent green (from the lichen), adding further colour to this dazzling display of nature. 


There are no roads anywhere close to you on your path once you leave Sonmarg until your last day when you make your steep descent to Naranag.  There are instead trails made by other trekkers who've been this way before you, and by shepherds who've been grazing their sheep here for hundreds of years. Everything about their routine is done at its own pace, and in a way that looks untouched for many generations. 

There are no settlements you see, and the few people you do see on these mountains and valleys are on the move. Along with them are hundreds and hundreds of sheep and sheep-herding dogs. And then there are the horses and a few horse-riders...who start as small dots on the horizon of an unending valley of flowers. And then before your eyes, they loom larger and larger until they cross you galloping away on the back of their horses in the wind. As you watch them gallop by in those massive green open valleys surrounded by even more massive mountains, you're this for real?
Lying down another time after the day's trek on the blue tarpaulin laid out on the grass, with the river gurgling a few meters below you. You are surrounded by rough edged black mountains on one side...and green rolling slopes in the other, with one slope letting a long white waterfall roll down its side. You and your fellow trekkers have just finished an impromptu open air massage session for each other.with half-open eyes, you're watching the sun play hide and seek with the clouds as they waft in and out between the mountains. An artist among us is sitting on the grass next to me with her water colours capturing on paper the scenic beauty that lies ahead of her. You hear some movement and a couple of horses who were drinking water from the stream are casually trotting in your midst to cross over to the other side of the meadow. And you're thinking this for real?


The Himalayas stand out for their sheer scale. Everything here is served in mega portions. And it's a good thing being here, being surrounded by its vastness...exploring its vastness on foot. When you traverse this terrain, it is both a humbling and an energizing experience. You appreciate a little more how minuscule you are amidst the vastness of these mountains and valleys that lie strong for centuries and centuries, unconquered for the most part. 

You stay open to the abundant energy within these open natural spaces, and strangely you can actually feel Nature restoring your energy, filling your cells with its abundance despite your body being pushed on a daily basis. In the process of ascending and descending its surfaces, you not only feel a step closer to Mother Nature in its purest also feel a few steps closer to yourself. In putting one foot ahead of the other, you develop a connection - with the ground below...with the mountains and skies above and the universe beyond...and deep within you. 

The Great Lakes of Kashmir trek is a moderately tough trek, given the duration (6 days of long walks, ascents and descents, 7 nights of camping), high altitudes of unto 4300 meters (14000+ feet) and the mixed terrain. But with enough stamina building and gearing up physically before the trek and with the right spirit of adventure, it's a splendid trail that even first timers can enjoy. 

When you're back to the cities, you realise that what you've come from is all real...What we have in these pockets of Nature are how Nature meant them to be in the first place. In order for it to be preserved like this, we all need to play our part in treating it with respect and with love. Fortunately, despite this being a popular trekking route, it has been treated very well by the trekking community making sure there are clean campsites, no trash along the trail, and an overall pristine experience for others to enjoy. After all, when it comes to Nature, however much she has to offer us, I think she mostly tells us to leave her alone and untouched.