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Aug 01, 2017 at 06:24

Kids can start hiking, walking and even trekking at a young age. Nandita Saini shares with us her experience and tips, in an age where technology has caged the children. 

trek [trɛk]
VERB go on a long arduous journey, typ- ically on foot: “we trekked through the jungle”

synonyms: hike · tramp · march · slog · footslog · trudge · traipse

The Oxford dictionary defines the word “trek” with words like “long”, “arduous”, and “typically on foot”. Instantly, the word that comes to mind for a trekker is – “Adventure junky”!

From times immemorial, India has been a country of trekkers (aka adventure junkies). In fact, in ancient times, people everywhere trekked, hiked and tramped their way across the world. They traveled over what must’ve been really tough mountain ranges, daunting deserts, endless oceans and overpowering jungles! They traveled for trade, adventure, discovery, piracy, religion, wars and conquests and even to search for eternal truth! Bodhidharma, Nanak, Adi Shankaracharya, Ibn Battuta, traders from Pandyan/Chola/Chera dynasties, and many others.

It’s a different world today: connected, buzzing, comfortable, and technologically advanced. Most of the ancient reasons for trekking have disappeared in a maze of super highways and motorized transport that whizzes through land, water, sky and even into space.

Today, people trek for more pleasurable reasons – fun, adventure, reconnecting with nature (albeit a fast disappearing one) and perhaps a moment of peace in a world of rising urban architecture and stress!

Children and young adults seem to love this form of adventure more than anyone else. My 2 kids, 16 and 12, like most kids, love their “devices”, TV shows, the latest music, hanging out with friends and playing sports. And then, to top it all, they simply love the outdoors. They love it as much as me, maybe even more! They’ve been travelling since they were 6 months old. We  love going hiking together, camping out, sitting by bonfires, roasting potatoes, watching wildlife, rolling in meadows full of flowers, climbing mountains, walking through old crumbling ruins, petting herds of goat and sheep and talking to the shepherds and farmers on the way.

Kids can start hiking, walking and even trekking at a young age. They have high energy, but can sustain it only for a short time. They love short walks that are full of activities with things to see and do, like short day walks in nearby nature trails, or walks around forts and monuments. As they grow older, in their “pre-tweens”, they have the energy to sustain short day-hikes of a few hours, like sanctuaries or hill climbs. Older still, as they hit the tweens and teens, they can do much more – like a dedicated trekking trip that targets longer climbs and takes a few days.

India has an exciting geographical diversity and it is easy to find interesting short and long treks through forests, mountains and deserts. A lot of adventure travel operators have mushroomed across the country and they cater to the ever increasing demand for this kind of travel.

Nothing can beat the pleasure of waking up in the morning to birdsong and the first rays of light brightening the interior of your tent. When you open up the front flap and look out, all you see are the endless vistas of mountains, a hundred shades of green or a rainbow of flowers in a meadow, or hear the water rushing over the boulders in its path. You catch a glimpse of the deer grazing, a fox whizzing past, an eagle soaring into the clouds, tiny birds flitting between the trees and bushes. You hear the shepherd woman singing a timeless melody and the bleating of her sheep and goat.

The new day brings with it new routes to hike, new challenges, the exhilaration of reaching that target destination, tired and yet with a sense of having done it! You find new waterfalls, enchanted petrified forests, copses of trees with branches disappearing into floods of flowers, tiny streams, and bunches of butterflies that kiss your skin as they flutter away.

Each day ends with laughter, bonfires, songs, long talks, new friends, and old friends with new perspectives in the new environment.

It is never too late to start a love affair with trekking and the outdoors. Just like any other specialized activity, it requires some preparation and precautions, for children, young adults and older people alike. When you go on a trek, you step away from familiar urban surroundings and mostly from rural ones too. The world belongs more to nature than to people. It can get uncomfortable, but the returns you get far exceed any discomfort you may experience. You move away from amenities that are taken for granted in daily life. For example, though luxury camps may offer bathrooms with running water (even hot water), most camps on a trek will not have this, and you may actually be answering nature’s call the way most God’s creatures do! Luggage and amenities are carried by you in backpacks, or on mules and horses. Every an extra gram counts and so you learn the meaning of “essentials”. So far away from city/mall life, many things you are used to carrying during regular travels will be quite irrelevant (that’s right, no fancy clothes, toiletries or makeup). Your trek leader will let you know what you must carry and her/his instructions are critical. You will not find too many well stocked shops on the way, so it’s a good idea to carry necessities like medicines, extra batteries, sun screens etc.

When you return from the trek, you will carry a sense of accomplishment, pride and exhilaration. You will have learnt some new survival skills and a whole lot about yourself, your abilities and the world around you. You will definitely feel different and stand apart.

Nandita Saini