At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I often took my guidance from Harappa’s Embracing Change course. This defines a failure, a mistake, and a setback in very precise terms, and by that definition, the pandemic classifies as a setback. A setback is a situation in which a negative outcome, over which one has little or no control, arises out of change. And within change lies opportunity. For me, this opportunity was a chance to tick off an item on my bucket list, a trek in Kashmir, then one of the only mountain states with clear rules for tourism. 

Our destination was the Tarsar Lake trek in Kashmir to which I, along with 11 others, set out. Set high at 3,750 meters, or 13,000 feet, above sea level, the almond-shaped Tarsar Lake is reached after traversing through green meadows, grey moraine and gushing rivers, typically over six days.

In ordinary times, a trek places one outside of the comfort zone. In this case, having escaped, even if briefly, the vice-like grip of the pandemic, I felt freer and lighter than ever before, despite being strapped up with a loaded backpack. As I walked, unmasked but often breathless, through breathtakingly beautiful surroundings, I wondered what souvenir I would take back from this rather memorable holiday. But the shops were all shut, and so I brought back five life lessons from trekking.

Lesson #1: Never leave base without a big breakfast.

Breakfast is my favorite meal, both at home and outside, but it has an altogether special significance on a trek. One, because, with the staple cereal, bread, butter, jam, eggs, its taste is more predictable than the other meals you will get. Indeed, the higher you go, the more sparse and undercooked your meals are bound to get. But more than taste, it’s that your breakfast can determine how well or poorly you will walk through the day. Mountain weather is full of vagaries, and there’s never any guarantee as to when you will be able to sit down to your next proper meal. Taking that simple logic to life means that whenever I begin any project or even my day, I anticipate unpredictability, and therefore, load up on a big breakfast of preparation. This could be something as simple as having a set of discussion points jotted down for every upcoming meeting, or perhaps enrolling in a program of study before attempting to reorient one’s career.

 Lesson #2: Maps don’t always show you the actual way, or a weather app the turns in your day.

Maps and apps are absolutely essential while planning a trek, and of course, we extensively used these for this one. But almost every day of the trek, I was reminded that there are still several aspects of any journey that are impossible to predict; a flat tire, for instance. In a trek, even the most accurate map technology cannot adequately prepare you for navigating a boulder field in unseasonal rain. You may find that what appeared on your smartphone to be an easy walk downhill was, in reality, both dangerous and terrifying because your boots just won’t stay steady on wet scree. To a large extent, we can and we must plan our lives, but to not be derailed, we must be conscious that the finer details of our jobs and careers will become visible only after we are well on our way. Surely, some of you who have started new jobs will second this. 

Lesson #3: Big Mountains involve some big and many small indignities.

Trekking isn’t for the fastidious. Water is very precious, weight must be kept to the minimum, and privacy is really not the priority; safety is. Trekking’s joys lie in your adaptability. If you’re lucky, a basic wash-up is done squatting clumsily by a stream or even with just a mug of tepid water, a small set of only the most functional clothes are worn and reworn, and your visits to the toilet can be visible to others. On the more uphill days, the thought of the destination of the trek must sustain you, and all that matters is putting one foot in front of the next, exactly like life. 

Lesson #4: The destination is always only ever “20 minutes” away.

Experienced trekkers never ask how much more there is left to walk till reaching the day’s destination, but in this trek, we were a mixed group, which also included a 12-year-old. Each time she asked, regardless of how much more it actually was, our guide would say, “Just 20 minutes more”. After a few days, this became a standing joke and a reason to smile. Apply this to any aspect of life, and particularly to workplace success. The work is never entirely done, another climb up will soon come, and the goal is always only “20 minutes” away. 

Lesson #5: Don’t forget to leave some cairns.

On lonely mountain trails, you will often come across cairns, a heap of stones piled up that, if followed, indicate the way. These can also offer solace to the solo trekker that they are not lost, and someone else has already been this way. This trek had none, and so my fellow trekkers placed some. As we make our way through uncharted territory at work, we can also place some cairns. This can be something as small as creating a template for repeatedly captured information or being available to a colleague who succeeds you in a role.

While these are my top five, there are other parallels too between trekking and life. On both these journeys, it’s important that you make time to stop, be still, take a deep breath, and enjoy the scenery. 

Indu Anand is an Associate Director with the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. A career corporate communicator and content creator, she is enjoying finding her Hero Habit.

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