2012 has been a year of lot of firsts and adventures, things I never thought I’d do. Looking back at the 12 months I realize I’ve had a bit of everything in it, from little joys to major milestones. I certainly spent some quality time refining my travel, writing and photography. Small changes and a conscious decision to find something new helped me immensely. I didn’t realize the impact of this until the very end of the year. As I look back at all I did in 2012, every experience and every trip has been different in more ways than one. And I say this at the risk of sounding clichéd, but each one of those moments has changed me in more ways than one. What more can a traveler ask for?
Wave after wave was crashing on my face and I couldn’t get enough time to even recover from each blow. With the surf board under one arm and the other hand tightly clutching Dhruv, my teenage instructor’s arm, I was going farther away from the shore. Lying flat on my stomach on the floating surf board, I would wait for the wave to come. Meanwhile, for one small moment, the sea would calm down. I couldn’t see the shore, neither could I see Dhruv. All I could see was the blue sky and a wave forming slowly, gracefully and silently. The blissful silence was ephemeral when another wave rose from behind and swept the board ahead. I tried standing up but within seconds I found myself tossed and tumbling underwater as if I was inside a washing machine. The ordeal continued for long that morning. If anything, I can only say I, very very briefly, managed to stand on the board and surf. I am not a beach person at all, I am a mountain person. But that was the first time I experienced the power of the sea, up close and personal.
It was exceedingly cold and it was midnight in the high Himalayas. The flickering light from head torches of trekkers on the trail seemed almost sinister. Tonight I was attempting to summit the 6153 m high Stok Kangri Peak in Ladakh. I was in the mountains entirely for the past week, climbing up three high passes and hauling my heavy backpack full of camera gear which was increasingly turning into a back breaking experience. Almost six hours after setting out in the dark on the trail, with numbed down feet and fingers, I saw the most beautiful sunrise of my life. It was almost as if the sun was below me, I was at an altitude of 19000ft already. At that height oxygen is as scarce as clean air in the cities! To say I reached the summit would be an understatement. I almost crawled up the ridge and to the summit. To put things in perspective, I climbed to a height of about 70% of Mt. Everest!
I have seen Himalayas of Himachal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Ladakh but Kashmir was in a different league altogether. Once in the unknown valleys of Kashmir, it was very easy to see why it is called “Heaven on Earth”! Beautiful alpine scenery, glacial lakes, crystal clear streams, wild flowers, green meadows, silver birches and everything else made it such a special place. For a week, the agenda was to sit by the stream every afternoon and just watch the show, of clouds, of mountains and of nature. I have travelled extensively in India and I can say that Kashmir is the most beautiful place I have seen yet.
In the summer of 2012 my cousins came to visit me. They were 10, 10 and 11 years old, all boys. They grew up hearing my travel escapades and watching the translated Bear Grylls shows on TV. Thankfully their interest in nature survived all these years. I have taken them on small day hikes earlier to waterfalls which they thoroughly enjoyed. But this summer, I took them on a major trek over a weekend to climb Chembra Peak, at 2100 meters, one of the highest in Wayanad, Kerala. One of the 10 yr olds freaked out before he started the trek but once he got on the trail he was in his element. The climb is easy but the gradient can be tough at times, all three of them climbed the peak effortlessly and were one of the first few to reach the top. And I am so incredibly proud of the three kiddos for never giving up and enjoying being in the mountains! It was a special moment for me, introducing outdoors to the next generation in my family.
Islands are special places. They have their own secrets and can be incredibly scary at times. Times like when I was in an island which was at least 6 hours by ship and another 1200kms away from mainland. I stayed in alone in bamboo huts amidst forest, scared to catch a wink but equally excited to be in such beautiful places. From the remote islands of Andaman I went searching for the headhunting tribes of Nagaland on the other end of the country. I stayed with the tribes in the frontier village at Indo-Burmese border. Entire northern Nagaland was plunged in darkness when I reached due to recent rainfall. The sun sets by 4.30 which meant a lot of darkness had to be endured. I was incredibly scared but felt incredibly alive. I was having the kind of adventures I have dreamed of since childhood. It was monumental that I took and survived these solo trips!
The rain was lashing at me and my oversized windcheater was acting like a sail, playing along with the raging winds. Meanwhile I was trying to cycle up the mountain to reach the peak. I bought my MTB (Mountain Terrain Bike) in early 2011, rode like crazy all through the summer and was eagerly waiting to take the rides in monsoon. But thanks to a failed Himalayan Cycling trip and lots of other travels, I couldn’t ride in the rain. However this year I did ride in the rain and how! It was refreshing to say the least, to feel the rain amidst nature. For two day we cycled in the rain, by the rivers, by the lakes, through fields and mountains. For me, life is in the outdoors!
It didn’t matter if I was in the Himalayas or in the tropical islands, this year I went out of my way to get out in the night and capture the galaxy and beautiful night skies. Since I bought the wonderful Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 Ultra Wide Angle lens, low light photography has really taken off for me. Luckily for me, this year all my trips have been to places with zero light pollution which meant brilliant views of milkyway galaxy. At this rate, in the coming years I will have an enviable collection of nightskies and I am extremely psyched about it!
Apart from these significant adventures, there have been many other things that made 2012 a good year. I won an award for photography, was invited to speak about my travels, learnt some lessons, made a list, spent time above the clouds and officially entered the world of travel writing and photography. My images and writings were published in national and international publications. But above all, I travelled much and I travelled well.
Here’s hoping 2013 will bring in more adventures. Hope you had a good year too!