28-Jun-2007

HKD 2 - Preparation

I had had a conversation with one of the trek organizers, NK. He had sent me a list of stuff to carry along. However, being cautious (as well as anal retentive as several point out), I called up to clarify the exact temperature and wind factor I could be expected to face. I have a morbid fear of being caught without enough woolen clothes and like to be really sure. NK told me that a thick jacket to protect me from the wind would do.

‘Not one of those funny thin jackets that Bombay people wear’, he laughed.

I did not. I had no clue exactly how thick Bombay jackets were meant to be. I had not owned one in Bombay.

‘So where are you from?’ he chortled, still amused by the Bombay jackets.

‘Chennai’, I replied.

Long pause

‘So..er..do you own a sweater?’, he finally managed.

‘Yes’. I replied and we began to talk of other things.

I had not explained to him why Chennaites own sweaters and when they wear them. Chennai residents have very limited winter gear. In summer, when one skips off to Ooty or Kodai for the mandatory three days of vacation, one buys a colourful sweater from the Tibetan shops. In December, everyone brings out the sweaters from the mothballed covers and waits. Lo behold! One fine day the temperature dips to 25 degrees and out come the sweaters. Everyone dons it proudly. Little kids are even made to wear monkey caps allowing just a tiny perspiring face to peep out. Granddads wrap a neat muffler around their necks to fight the nip in the morning air. So after pinching winter wear from various generations, you can accumulate a sweater, a muffler and a monkey cap.

Luckily I had more than that. For one there was the bulky polyfill jacket I had bought before I went to Bangalore for B-School. An old aunty had told me that Bangalore is a very cold place and I would certainly die of hypothermia in its harsh winters. Promptly my mom and I went to one of Chennai’s best winter wear stores and ignoring the fact we had lived in 8 degrees at Calcutta with just one sweater per person, bought the bulkiest jacket they had. A year later, I was yet to open the bag in which the jacket was and on second thoughts realised that aunty had obviously not seen winters harsher than Chennai’s and had clearly assumed other places to be Tundra-like. Repeated attempts to palm it off to my sister in the U.S. had not worked since she felt it made her look like Sherlock Holmes. Anyway, the thing finally came in useful when I went to Rishikesh one November and it was going to come in useful now.

I had adequate sweaters (courtesy sis) and a nice rain jacket (again courtesy sis). All I had to do was to get thermal wear, woolen socks, gloves and woolen caps. This is where I followed the first fundamental rule of preparing for a trek – borrow shamelessly. I promptly called up Z and SM who had been to Arunachal and took inventory of everything they owned. Z also sent me a comprehensive list of everything I had to carry. It was much better than the one I had and became the basis for much of my planning.

Everyone knows that the most important thing in a trek is to buy good shoes with great grip. This would prevent unfortunate situations like rolling off into gorges. The next most important thing is to buy a good backpack. Wildcraft makes the best in India. The backpacks have cushioning at the back and also allow air circulation. Throughout the trek, my backpack kept absorbing the sweat on my back and shoulders.

The other things on my list which I thought I would never use but came in useful

Medical tape – I began to develop callouses on my thumb, middle finer and little finger after gripping my walking stick for two days. From day three I put tape on all three fingers, felt like some cool sportsperson and walked. My normally I-am-too-cool-to-be-bothered-about-behaviour-of-people-from-the-plains Pahadi guide actually had to ask me what it was. Hearing the reply he commented I had very soft hands with an I-am-too-cool-to-be-bothered-about-behaviour-of-people-from-the-plains smirk.
Maglite – this is not a mere torch. It is a powerful beam captured in a three inch long, 1 inch diametered metal capsule. It includes a spare bulb, a facility to double up as an electric candle and above all (hurrah) was mentioned as a constant companion of the F.B.I in some detective novel
Talcum powder – to dust feet and prevent any fungal infections. A sensitive skinned friend had taken along an anti fungal dusting powder on her trek

The one thing I wish I had carried along was a small, thin towel. Bathing was out of a question for several days and giving yourself a sponge bath becomes easier with a smaller towel.

SM also provided PB and me with big backpacks. He also gave away all the extra ziplocks he had bought at the time of his trek. Apparently he had packed away all his stuff in separate ziplocks. This not only made it easier to locate stuff in your backpack but also kept your clothes from getting wet and also did not trap air like normal plastic bags. I hate carrying stuff in backpacks since more often than not one just dumps everything on the ground to locate a sock. This seemed a brilliant way of organizing the stuff.

Everything else had to be bought. A week before D-Day, most shopping had been done. However, when last minute panic sets in about how equipped you are to handle ten days without electricity, telephone or medical care, you just about buy anything, which you may think is useful. Which is how I ended up buying the cigarette lighter and the tobacco. No, I don’t smoke.

One late evening, SUNS called me up to wish me

‘So what are you going to do about the leeches?’ he asked with all the world-weariness of someone who went trekking fifteen years ago in his school.

‘I am carrying salt’ I replied. Leeches are usually my worst fears in any trek.

‘And if it rains and the salt dissolves’,

I rushed out to buy tobacco and shoved it into a corner of my bag where it remained for the entire duration of my trip. Uttaranchal rarely has leeches and if it all, they appear during the monsoon

SUNS continued

‘are you carrying a matchbox’

‘Yes’, I replied smug. I have already thought through scenario of being lost in the snow when I would collect firewood, build a fire and keep myself warm like an enterprising Red Indian

‘And if it rains and the matches get wet?’

I rushed out to buy a cigarette lighter. I also decided to stop taking any more advice. I had no more space left in my bag to accommodate so much collected wisdom.

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