For the 2011 trip, We prepared in all possible ways. We worked out in the gym ( cardio and weights), were on diet, read as much as possible about the trip. and the reading included not just the positives of the trip ( trip of a lifetime, great sights, great photo ops, right to boast), but also about the risks involved i.e. the things that can go wrong ( from the vehicle) to our body ( food poisoning, high altitude sickness that can be life threatening, the symptoms, what to do in such situations - availability of medical help hospitals ) to speaking to people who spent their time in the defense services.
Everything went as per plan till we got blocked on the way to Rohtang Pass and ended up staying overnight at Sarchu ( alt:4290 metres). Two of the three were already sick due to food poisoning and were really down. The next morning, drove to the nearest Army Hospital and were treated for low blood oxygen level. Fortunately for the team, once they were administered oxygen, their oxygen levels increased and also stabilized.
I couldn’t help recall this incident after reading about the tragedy of trekkers losing their lives in the forest fire.
Let me get this straight. I am not trying to blame anyone. But trying to ask some questions to ensure that we are more careful in the future.
- How prepared was the group in terms of physical fitness ?
- What was their typical lifestyle ( active, semi-active or sedantary) ?
- Were they aware of the risks involved in the trek ?
- How many people trained in first aid or emergency rescue were there in the group ?
- What was their ratio ? was it 1 trained for 10 people or 1 trained for 2 people?
- What was the difficulty level of this trek ? (http://www.nwhiker.com/HikeEval.html)
- Was it suitable for kids and women ?
- Were they all properly dressed ( trekking shoes and gears)
- Did the people carry RF communication devices and not depend on mobile phones ?
- Was the risk of the forest fire known ? (News reports say that 30 fires were spotted in last six days)
- If so, was the team apprised of the risk and briefed about what to do in case they came across a fire ?
- Was the forest department aware of the fires and permit the trek?
- Do people know that they need permission to trek in such places ?
- Was there an entry fee for the trek ?
- What was the entry fee ? I read 200 per head. Was it a proper fee with a receipt or a bribe ? Please increase it a level where only people who are very serious about the trek will even think of it ( suggestion to forest department)
My observation is that,of late, there seems to be a more romanticized view of nature and everything that involves nature. Be it farming or trekking in the mountains or forests, people get in with lot of enthusiasm and in-sufficient or superficial knowledge.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A trek in the forests or a hilly terrain is no stroll in the neighborhood park or a visit to the beach on a normal day .What happens nowadays is similar to how people respond to a bull run in a stock market.
In the euphoria, everyone thinks of only the upside ( the Adrenalin rush , the photo ops , chance to boast on Social Media ). No one thinks of the Down side ( the dangers, the normal injuries that can end up life threatening or actual life threatening incidents , lack of know-how to respond).
One of the things good Project Management demands is that we think of all the things that can go wrong and ensure that we know how to respond when things go wrong to come out successful.
It boils down to one word. ‘Preparation’. I am reminded of the following conversation between Oshima and Kafka ( from the book ‘Kafka on the Shore’ by Haruki Murakami)
"I am sure you enjoyed living all alone with nature like that, but it's not easy to live there for a long time," Oshima says.
"In theory it's not impossible to live like that, and of course there are people who do. But nature is actually unnatural, in a way. And relaxation can be threatening. It takes experience and preparation to really live with those contradictions. ..."Nature demands Respect. Preparation is the only way to show respect to nature and when we go through many experiences and survive to talk about the tales, we also become wizened with experience. And when you are up against nature, over planning and over preparation is always on par( for more lessons, suggest reading ‘The Climb’ by Anatoly Bourkreev ).
May we please take our engagements with Nature (treks and expeditions) more seriously and be prepared enough ?
Why do we even get into this ? Is it the adrenaline rush that we want ? Then there are lot of other less riskier ways to get it in the cities.
- Go for some sports or martial arts class.
- Hit the Gym regularly. Regular exercise is a serious way to get your regular dose of adrenaline.
- Teach. The satisfaction grows over time and is long lasting
- Do Yoga/Learn Music/Learn a new skill/Art
If we really want to be amidst nature and enjoy what it has to offer, let us not take it for granted, but understand our responsibility and be prepared.
- Know what you are signing up for
- Be involved in the arrangements or ask the organizers the right questions
- Get official permissions. (This is important because when the mess hits the fan, it is the government and only the government that has the capability to mobilize resources and help on a scale that matters).
- Be physically fit
- Read about the trip on the web or talk to battle scarred veterans
- Be properly geared
- Hydrate yourself
- Know the terrain and the dangers associated that matter ( climatic conditions, wild animals, forest fires, flood and so on)
- Have a fall back plan ( whom to communicate and how to in case of emergencies)
- Have well qualified guides who understands the terrain.
- Follow the rules and processes
- Get your priorities right. There is a family and there are friends, for whom your presence is more important in the longer run
In our Delhi-Manali-Leh-Delhi trip, while my team members’ oxygen levels improved and stabilized well enough, it was not the case with another person (a biker) we met at the hospital. He was advised to reach lower altitudes as soon as possible and fortunately for him, he was accompanied by a pillion rider.
Such was the nature of the terrain and the vagaries of nature. We were physically and mentally prepared for the problems and knew that in the worst case may even have to abandon the trip, but probably got lucky the second time.
Having personally seen how fast a fun trip can go from pleasure to mortal danger, I demand the following, in light of this tragedy.
- Will the government please step in and formalize steps to organize such treks and organizations that conduct such treks ?
- Will the organizers become more responsible in communicating the complete picture about the trek ?
- Will the participants understand what they are getting into and be more responsible ?
My heart goes out to all the people who lost their lives and who suffered severe burn injuries and all the more to the parents who lost their kids. I dont have the heart to watch the photos or videos. And i can’t even think of what the Parents must endure through for the rest of their lives, having lost grown up kids .
In this tragic loss of lives, let us not lose the lesson, please.
P.S. I have documented our road trip and the lessons learnt here - http://mysticmundane.blogspot.in/2013/08/manali-leh-road-trip-and-guidelines-on.html