While many are still coming to terms with life during the pandemic, a courageous lot set off on an expedition to scale Mt Rudugaira, Uttarakhand, in what could possibly be the first major trekking expedition after the lockdown.
Thirty-nine enthusiasts belonging to different walks of life from various Indian states took part in the challenging initiative, which was led by Lt Col Rommel Barthwal and Thammineni Bharath from Boots and Crampons.
After undergoing COVID-19 tests, the members got off to the 12-day expedition, from on 28 September to 09 October, with 13 of the 39 scaling the mountain. Among the 13 were some trekkers from Telangana, whom we caught up with for a chat.
Welcoming the outdoors
Looking forward to travelling in the new normal with all the insights about the COVID-19 protocols was Pothuraju Samanyu, a 10-year-old mountaineer, who did the trail with his 36-year-old mother Lavanya.
Samanyu says he wasn’t afraid to trek during the pandemic. “I was waiting for the opportunity because I felt it would be a refreshing change after the lockdown,” he says.
Sharing Samanyu’s enthusiasm, Lavanya, who accompanies her son in all his expeditions, also tells us she had no misgivings about the pandemic while trekking. “I wasn’t afraid also because I believe the mountains are very pure. Moreover, there wasn’t any crowd, so the expedition was like a ‘Me Time’ trip,” she says, adding that it was Samanyu who pushed her to do this trek. Of course, being cooped up at home during the lockdown manifested itself in bodily stiffness during the initial stages of the trek, for both Lavanya and Samanyu. “It’s been some time since we trained for any of it, so it took us time to get acclimatised to the conditions,” Lavanya points out.
Challenging the inner self
For 47-year-old Krishna Kalagara, an entrepreneur with a graduate degree in mountaineering, trekking during the pandemic meant challenging his inner self. Krishna tells us that despite COVID-19, he had been preparing for the expedition for two months. “Going for long walks, cycling and controlling my diet helped me prepare for the trek,” he explains. However, Krishna doesn’t shy from admitting that the expedition was a huge challenge despite his preparations.
“It required a lot of physical and mental preparation like constant self-motivation. I had to mentally compete with myself, and keep improving upon my fitness levels, etc. That being said, scaling Mt Rudugaira has given me lot of satisfaction and has shown me that I can accomplish new challenges,” he shares.
The cultural diversity
Munagala Pranavi, a Grade IX student from Chaitanya School, ECIL, had to apply for two weeks’ leave from school to set off for her maiden expedition. And despite initial challenges of trying to convince her parents, Pranavi’s school principal and her coach were very encouraging.
As a part of her preparation to scale the mountains, Pranavi tells us she jogged a lot and did several breathing exercises. “I am a National-level swimmer, so I did not experience much difficulty,” she tells us while pointing out that seeing people with masks and constantly sanitising during the trek was certainly surreal.
But what Pranavi seems to have taken back most from the trek is the memory of people she met there. “I met many people and got to experience various new cultures, traditions and food. Even the Sherpas we met during the trek were so hard working. All these gave me a first-hand experience of what I’ve learnt in books about cultural diversity,” describes Pranavi.
A humbling experience
Devyani Haldar, a scientist at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, was also part of the maiden expedition after the lockdown to Mt Rudugaira. An ultra-marathoner, Devyani swears by her love for nature and the mountains. “I was sick of the lockdown and thought trekking would give me the much-needed energy to rejuvenate and get back to work with a renewed spirit,” says the 49-year-old. Then sharing her thoughts on how one cannot stop those who love to travel, she points out how COVID-19 has ensured that most tourist places are empty. “There is an added calm, which doubled my joy,” she adds, admitting that this was a tough challenge.