The first time I ventured into high altitude was nearly my last. Before heading out, a wrinkly Sherpa had haunted my mind with words like “potentially fatal” and “acute altitude sickness.” But then, I was 19 and indestructible.
I prided myself on voluntarily controlling my pulse rate, never getting sunburned, and for me, the cold was a state of mind. Once I reached 14,000 feet my pulse had peaked, the sun had peeled layers of skin off my forehead, and my state of mind was too numb to process any kind of temperature. All I could think of was that I needed my mother!
On the second day of my month-long Rescue Diver course in Mauritius, I was a 130 feet under in very cold, dark waters and my fin broke off. It seemed like an eternity and I ran out of air. I was in the middle of a rescue-simulation bringing up a fainted victim.
Fortunately my diving buddy who was playing the “victim” had to nip his acting career in the bud and share his air with me. Unfortunately, he had just enough air for the both of us to reach 90 feet below the surface. That’s when he calmly removed his mouthpiece and signalled to me that we were finished! Thankfully, we were saved by a third diver who had returned in search of us.
Bobbing along the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, in a six-man canoe with 12 people in it, we disembarked on a snake farm for lunch. While walking around as our meal was being prepared, my Vietnamese host opened a wooden crate revealing a massive python inside. My curiosity got the better of me and I deftly plucked it up from behind the head.
My sudden change of expression from boastful to confusion to pure terror prompted my host to yell something shrill from behind a bush. After deciphering the tones and deciphering the odd consonant confusion, I figured that the python was “velly hunglee”. That was it! Now picking up a snake of this size is relatively easy if you grab it from the back. Letting it go is the unpredictable part. The “very hungry” python was also very pissed-off. Before this 10-foot long muscle crushed my neck and spine, I flung it off me towards the local hiding-party. Mid-air, it spun around and snapped the hair off my arms. It was straight out of a sci-fi film with a Rambo backdrop. I was thrilled to be back in that six-man canoe. Needless to say, I had lost my appetite.
Few years back I rafted the Zanskar River in Ladhak. Most adventure operators had cancelled the run as the region had been inundated by freak rain; villages were washed away and the river was in full spate. On our third day, both our rafts flipped vertically ejecting 16 people into the numbingly icy water.
Just as I managed to extricate myself from under the upside-down raft, I belched out half the river and extended my frozen hand to a large American woman who was yanking people into the two-man kitchen raft. Just as she stretched to get me out of the river that now seemed intent on consuming me, she withdrew her hand, whipped around and screamed, “We are hitting another rapid!” After that experience, I think twice before putting my clothes into a washing machine.
Adventure travel takes you to places so amazing, it makes you realise that it’s the only way to travel. The experiences that it puts us through remind us that we are alive, temporary and thoroughly destructible. Added to this, it’s also good to realise how infinitely small we really are. Yet most importantly, being in the great outdoors can be so overwhelming that it honestly embraces your soul (and once in a while makes you remember your mother!).