I have never been excited by the ocean. It could be because it’s always been in my backyard. I could go whenever I wanted though I have few memories from my childhood of being at the beach. There is also the Indian mentality of not getting into the water. Until I visited Unawatuna beach in the south of Sri Lanka and swam in the ocean, going to the beach was always an unnecessarily hot and boring activity. In my family, you went to the beach to “feel the wind”. “Kaatu kollan” best is apparently Kozhikode beach.
I’ve never actively thought about it till now, but I might be a mountain person. Mountains are a challenge. A challenge that me with my abused lungs, asthma and bodyweight find super hard to master. Two years ago a couple of us drove to Yelagiri over the weekend; a tiny hill station 160 kms south east of Bangalore. There we trekked up stone steps for maybe 30 minutes and I was done. Panting and out of breath, my lungs were breathing fire. It felt like someone was pushing down a massive weight on my shoulders. Of course I made excuses for taking breaks including the juvenile one that I was waiting for the other friend who had trouble climbing. We still laugh about that. An hour or so into it, when it grew dark and started raining hard, I was the happiest to return. That must have been a max of 800-1000 metres.
Walking and swimming aren’t challenging activities to me. I enjoy both and can do them endlessly. Once, in Gokarna, we walked some 17 kms along the beach in a day. We got up early, walked out of our stay and just kept walking. When the sun beat down on us too hard, we got into the water to cool down. When we got hungry, we stopped by one of the many shacks by the beach and had our fill. When there was an opportunity to people gaze, we plonked on the sand and did just that. We beach-hopped from Gokarna to Kudle to Om. We could have kept going if the day was longer.
Though I don’t like to leave the house on a regular day, I would like to believe that I am an outdoorsy person. I love being in nature, sweating it out and being under the cool shade of giant trees among the chatter of birds. It is precisely this romanticism got me hiking in South Korea. And of course Crossfit, the fitness regime that changed my outlook to life. In our 20 days in South Korea, we completed four treks. And I was blown away that I was physically able to do it. And for that I have Crossfit to thank. It’s the trainers there who taught me to push myself. Not to give up when breath becomes laboured. That the human body can take a lot more exertion than we are used to on a regular day. Crossfit taught me that when you think the climb is going to kill you, it’s just your brain messing with you. Keep on going on.
Bukhansan: It’s a fortress on a mountain that serves as the border of Seoul and it’s still heavily guarded. The path is clearly laid out with steps here but you are not allowed to take pictures towards the city. This day hike is best for people who enjoy surveillance.
Seoraksan: We stayed in a windmill-themed lodge in Sokcho on the foothills of the Seoraksan mountains. We took the easiest trekking route that took us through two waterfalls before climbing up to a viewpoint. Since Seoraksan is to the north, though it was early October, the leaves were turning and it was beautiful. Trekking is a popular activity in South Korea and you will see many senior citizens, mostly older women (called Ajummas), climbing up nimbly in gaggling groups with packets of orange and Soju. The good thing about crowds in Korea is that they don’t litter.
Hallasan: Located on Jeju island, Hallasan is a dormant volcano. Access to the upper reaches of this mountain is restricted. There are endless steps built onto the cliffside of this mountain and you just keep on climbing. The winds are strong and the scenery is breath taking. You get to see little hills called oreums, made when the Mt. Hallasan erupted millions of years ago. When the mountain plateaus out before the mid-way shelter, we were told that we were the last ones on the property and we had little time to get back down. The downhill was an eerily silent descent broken only once by a toy-sized cargo train from the shelter that offered us a lift!
Our best climb in South Korea was in the company of one of my old friends from college, Thressy Maxwell. From Busan, we took a bus to Okpo and onward to Gujora beach in Geoje. Late October being off-season, the streets were silent, most services were shut and the atmosphere was perfect. We bought her favourite fried chicken and climbed up a bamboo forest to reach a sort of a tiny fortress with a view of two beaches. We had lunch there, just the three of us, shared stories and found a different path to walk down. I will always remember that place when I think of Thressy and of Korea.
Looking forward, 2017 intends to be the year I get fitter than I am right now. And one of the big motivators is a secret desire I’ve been nursing since I read Vasudhendra’s Mohanaswamy. To climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Thank god I have friends who think it’s a good idea and are ready to indulge me. It’s a tall order even for a fit person because of the high altitude and the low temperatures. Not to mention that I have the lung capacity of a week-old balloon. And Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano that takes a week to climb. And as of today I know nothing more about it.
Let’s just say that’s how challenges are born and accepted. There will always be a way to make it happen. There is a story about Vararuchi in Eithihyamala. He and his wife are on the road (deshadanam). When each of their babies are born he asks if they have a mouth. And he asks his wife to abandon them because the gods who gave the child a mouth will also find a way to fend for them. Africa trip is not till October. I have over six months to prepare. Though I am not religious, my faith is based entirely on the naive belief that the powers that be will not put me in situations I cannot handle.