Leave the road, take the trails

Little children can teach you a lot about the benefits of being in nature, themselves and how we can mould to be the best version of ourselves in the right environment.

“Hold my hand, please,” said a tentative 11-year-old.

We were on a small trek to Asherigad fort with fledgling scouts sometime in January, before the winter wound up. This was Zal’s first trek with a bunch of boisterous pre-teenagers who were happy to simply be out of the house in the midst of a global pandemic, taking in the scent of the earth at 5 AM. While most arrived at the pick-up point with their parents, regaling one another with stories of the last time they went on a hike, Zal cautiously soaked in the moment with trepidation, the weight of his backpack balanced by the ponderosity on his face.

We packed a dozen kids in two minivans and drove off as the morning breeze brushed our faces – something I relished as a child and still do. We jaunted an hour towards Palghar and witnessed the city waking up to the bustle of another prosaic morning, vegetable vendors laboriously lining the pavements to make their living that day. While the other kids revelled in their banter, Zal picked a window seat, both his hands holding the rolled-down window handle, and stared out the entire 2-hour journey.

We reached the foothills of the village where locals treated us to sizzling chai brewed on a wooden flame. The joy of drinking fiery tea on a frosty morning amidst sprawling nature is comparable only to few other pleasures, and when you dip Parle-G in it, nothing else really matches up. Before we started the climb, the boys took a collective leak in the open field under a ginormous banyan tree, playfully marking their territory with their jet sprays, while Zal waited for everyone else to finish before meekly taking one himself.

You can tell a lot about children from the way they hike. Some like to lead the trail, while others like to lumber and need some goading. Most stay happily cushioned between the two, ensuring they don’t get lost. After navigating rocks of various sizes and tiny streams and swinging from some solid branches, we took a little break to replenish ourselves. “Eat some bananas,” the scoutmaster instructed, as everyone merrily shared fruits and other scrumptious nashta that their mummies had packed for them. Zal, pulled out a little plastic box and munched on a sandwich before we took off for the steeper part of the climb.

We stumbled upon seeds planted in concrete with verdant green plants blooming from them, intriguing insects that scuttered from under boulders, and unearthed crystals from the earth’s core that we took back as memorabilia. And then we came across a rickety handmade 30-feet ladder that rested on a huge rock, which we were required to traverse to continue. We all looked up at it, then at each other, and took a deep breath. The ladder creaked as each one gingerly stepped on it, its iron contemplating, with each step, when to give way. Zal refused to take the first step. “It’s too steep and too high. I’ll wait here; you guys go and meet me back,” he insisted.

With a little bit of prodding he finally agreed. “Hold my hand, please,” he urged, but there was only enough room for one person at a time to fit on the steps. I helped him from behind as we both climbed together, staring below into an abyss into which both of us could fall if the ladder collapsed or we slipped. I tried to distract him with small talk, but he was quiet. I could see his legs tremble, and when we took the final step, he dropped to the ground, both exhausted and exhilarated by the sweeping vistas that greeted us. After over 2 hours of climbing, we had reached the table top whose gorgeous views made every step of the climb seem worth it. We opened up our snack boxes once again and everyone pecked into each other’s nourishment after having conquered a peak, albeit a little one.

Hiking is an activity that children must be encouraged to indulge in. It strengthens friendships, bolsters camaraderie, and develops personality. It allows you to explore your potential and test your limits safely. You are not in the shadow of your parents, and while there are elders to guide you, you have to decide where to place your foot next, every single time. Some rocks will hold solid, some will move. Some branches will take your weight, others will give way. Sometimes you lean, sometimes you support. You learn how to continue with a twisted ankle, a bruised knee, and other people’s body odour. You learn to make do with the water you have because there’s only so much you can carry. You learn to pace yourself. You learn balance. You learn to get up every time you fall.

After having rested adequately and replenished our energy reserves, it was time to make our way down in the sweltering heat of an early afternoon sun. While its sultriness parched our skins, its radiance strengthened our bones. Going down a hill requires a different skill set from climbing up it. I remember monsoon hikes where we as scouts would slide down 20-30 feet at a time on mucky terrain, leaving our behinds sore and our thighs chafed for the entire week. But this was dry ground, and it was steep, rough, and filled with boulders. While the other kids were making progress, Zal was lagging behind.

I decided to hold his hand and literally galloped down. He was scared of the pace but as I gripped his hand firmly, brown sweat oozing from the gaps in our palms, he gained some confidence. Nimble footed we trotted, breezing past the other boys. I could see his fear transform into faith and then I let go off his hand. Without looking back, he continued to dash down past all the other boys. I stood still watching him run down at such a speed that the others only saw him whooshing by and finishing first. We treated ourselves to chilled juices and drove back merrily with Zal singing and cracking silly jokes with the other boys as they all gently nodded off onto one another after a Sunday well spent.

Sometimes, all we need is a hand to hold for a while before we can make it on our own.

21 Comments on “Leave the road, take the trails
  • Mahashweta Biswas says:

    Beautifully put together. A helping hand is all it takes to take the next step.

    Cheers

    Mashi

    Reply
  • Anjali says:

    Lovely write up…very enjoyable. The pictures bring life to the already lively write up

    Reply
  • Chanda says:

    Wonderfully written, Could feel myself trekking with your group, all the way. Imagine, I too climbed the rickety ladder along with Zal.
    Such a delight being a part of your escapades.
    Don’t you feel exhausted of all the accolades coming your way, Doc. Thank you for brightening the day. Please keep writing.

    Reply
  • Priyadarshan Pradhan says:

    Wish you were my scout master doctor saheb

    Reply
  • Freny says:

    Beautiful Article enjoyed it thoroughly. If you give a helping hand to anyone, you will be Blessed with plentiful of hands in Life.

    Reply
  • Natwar Panchal says:

    Superb

    Reply
  • Dr Indu Bansal says:

    Such a beautiful writeup yet again taking us through the journey as if I was a part of it. Tiny details so beautifully highlighted. Keep on writing and thanks for making us a part of it.

    Reply
  • Meena Kothari says:

    You display new talents with each of your write ups Doctor and also inexhaustible energy! You are as always very inspiring

    Reply
  • Constance Matabiswana says:

    Beautifully put together. Indeed it takes a village to raise a child. Thank you for continuing to transform your communities even in the face of the pandemic.

    Reply
  • Anuradha Karnik says:

    I read this beautifully written article and instantly realised what I have been missing. The great outdoors! And yes, team spirit, building confidence in oneself and others and the therapy of togetherness! Good going Mazda!

    Reply
  • Dr Mudit Khanna says:

    Beautifully put together … please do count me in on your next trek 😊 and

    Reply
  • Mayur says:

    Colors do bring smile in our life but for me you Dr. Mazda made me focused and made me learn how to live life … Thank you .

    Reply
  • Shahnaz says:

    Excellent 👌👌 Only if there could be such trekkings for the younger generation out of their teens.

    Reply
  • Supriya Correa says:

    There’s a bit of Zal in all of us. Beautiful are the days when there’s someone like you to help us climb uphill…it seems that you are needed in more places than the OT…now if only we could manufacture more Mazdas than the vaccine 🙂 and nope, not the car

    Reply
  • Marzin says:

    Thank you for taking me back to my youth. We used to go camping back in my school days in Panchgani.
    Next time you go, take me along. Would love to come with the kids

    Reply
  • CHANDAN RUMI SANJANA says:

    Took me back to our childhood and the beautiful weather in the Nilgiris and Kodaicanal. Best times ever. The lovely fresh air and beautiful weather, the smell of Eucalyptus from the trees that grow… your story made me feel if I was trekking with you all. Wonderful. Especially for children from MUMBAI who live surrounded by huge cement skyscrapers and no place to play!

    Reply
  • T George Koshy says:

    Mazda..enjoyed your article..relived the trek with u and Zal in particular..liked all the descriptions (“taking a collective leak😂😂)and of course all ur photos too..to be honest I have never gone hiking because I have never had such opportunities in my childhood…sort of made up for that when I climbed Toad & College Hill at various times during my MBBS at Vellore..keep writing Mazda..always a treat to read what u write..

    Reply
  • P H Acharya says:

    ‘First experiences’ create memories that can never be replicated and no wonder we relate to ‘the first time I did this’ scenario with so much expression and feeling. Zal will forever cherish this read for it will help him relive the churning emotions of fear and exhilaration.
    To more such wholesome writings👍

    Reply
  • Rita singh says:

    Wish all children had this kind of opportunity.Alas! not much attention is paid on overall development of our kids.Most schools limit education to ex cellence in books only .I think this excellent write up should reach all our schools.

    Reply
  • Di says:

    Lovely and delightful article… puts me in a lighthearted mood and makes me want to go for a hike… the climb to the top was worth it with such a beautiful view… liked what u wrote about what hiking teaches children… true.. sometimes all we need is a hand to hold before making it on our own 🙂

    Reply
  • Lucky Yashvant Singh says:

    Its wonderful ..sir…u wrote so nicely about…hiking..it teaches us so many things….they r so much lucky as u were there with them…….for helping nd enjoying the things really grt……keep writing like this ….

    Reply

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