Trekking is a mode of travel in the hills, but on foot. It is nothing but walking, involving moving up and down the hills in a pattern that is dictated by the individual trekker's levels of stamina, interest and familiarity with the local environment. It does not have to be a treacherous and difficult terrain but even trekking on 'jeepable' roads is a good option for beginners, who are basically looking to walk and enjoy the scenery at a leisurely pace. For them, being in a speedy vehicle is a choice to be exercised later.
While all this may sound too simple, a few precautions and must-do's would help. I have been on a 100- plus treks and have amassed a wealth of information, tips and must-do's from locals, fellow travellers and avid trekkers over three decades.
Apart from being a professional photographer, I took to trekking, almost like an alternate vocation cum hobby on the behest of my guru, the late Brigadier Gyan Singh, a famous mountaineer. Apart from his other accomplishments in 1947, he set up the Army Ski Training School in Gulmarg, Kashmir, which is now the High Altitude Warfare School. I have yet to see a more devoted and sincere lover of the Himalayas than him. I distinctly remember tips he gave me when I undertook my first trek in Sikkim way back in 1979. That, plus what I gleaned from him over the years, I recall below for the sake of trekkers, wanting to acquire some additional knowledge, straight as they say, from the horse's mouth:
Carry as little as possible. Trekking teaches the fine art of eliminating the unnecessary. This is most important when the trekker is carrying his own rucksack. Wear two socks with a shoe one size larger than the one you wear normally. Never wear a new shoe, always use an old one, a tried and tested one. After the first km or so, sit down, open the shoes and see if the shoes are too tight or too loose. Look for any signs of a blister. In either case, blisters can happen. It is a good idea to liberally apply talcum powder on the feet and if you plan to take a rest of half an hour or so, then open the shoes and socks and let the feet get some air. Also, wash the feet, dry them and then resume the trek, if you plan a longer rest. Before commencing a trek in the hills, practice going up and down any stairs as much as you can. This works up those muscles which do not get worked or used in a flat walk. This would hurt the muscles for three to four days but it is better to get the pain at home rather than in the hills. You will discover some new muscles in the feet! I have never ventured before undergoing this routine. Never try to keep pace with others if you find them walking faster than you. Keep a pace that is comfortable with your style. Locals walk much faster as they are accustomed to the terrain and to long hours of walking and they may give you an inferiority complex, that makes you prod along at their pace. Ignore that and follow and respect your own natural rhythm. Do have a camera, for it will help you in enjoying the place more. It will give you more time to relax and take it easy rather than keep rushing. The joy of trekking multiplies many times over with a camera.
Never drink from any spring or water source that you see en-route. Only drink from a place which is neat and clean. Experience will tell if that water is coming from a village or is a source of water. Better avoid when in doubt and rely on the water bottle that you carry which is an absolute must. One can add Glucose D for more energy and taste. Toffees, chocolates and sweets help energise too.
When you see any horse, mule or yak approaching you and the path is not very wide,(which is normally the case), immediately veer to the hill-side. The animal would do the same by virtue of its inherent natural instinct. This is vital since the animal generally gives a push on its side and if you are on the side of the slope/s, it could be a potentially serious situation, ending even in death. So be the smarter mule and rush to the hill side. This has been a most useful advice which I have followed most religiously and survived to tell this tale.
Do not attempt to carry a very heavy rucksack as it has the tendency to get heavier every km. You start with a 10 kg rucksack and it becomes 20 after a steep climb of three kms or so. Study it carefully or else as I do often enough, engage a porter to carry it and leave yourself to concentrate on the trek and the photography. After all, I do not feel the need to prove anything to anybody. Drink as much water as possible due to avoid dehydration, preferably boiled water and if possible, use some water purification tablets. Eat clean food and not just anything available at the villages on the way. To get initiated in this wonderful sport, join any trekking club for the first two or three treks and after learning the ropes, do the treks with just one or two friends. I found from my own experience that after three treks with YHA(Youth Hostels Association), I began doing it solo with just one friend and one porter. It is much better that way. Most of the times just one porter is enough. Easy logistics!
Never trek all alone. Have at least one person who could even be your porter. That has been my style for decades.
As soon as you finish the trek for the day, fix up your tent as it is already dark. By this he meant that fix up the sleeping bag, keep the torch handy, water bottle by the side, toilet paper and other medicines. Then after this routine, do not get inside the sleeping bag but go for an easy stroll. If there is a village nearby, try and befriend the villagers. Relax the muscles. If it is not too cold, wash the feet with water so that you don't have that uncomfortable feeling of sticky feet with perspiration at night. I must admit that this has not been possible most of the time though.
Easy/moderate treks for beginners
Nagtibba Trek near Mussoorie
Valley of Flowers -Hemkund Trek.
Ashok is a professional photographer whose life passion has been to scale Himalayan peaks, capturing their beauty on camera. His only regret is the bug caught him late and instead of a mountaineer, he has had to contend being an avid trekker.