The outdoors can be a wonderfully rejuvenating place. Seeing places and things never seen before, savouring the wonders Mother Nature has bestowed, enjoying the scenery of green meadows or snow capped peaks on a mountain range, gushing waterfalls, the serene silence of gurgling waters of mountain streams, all wonderfully therapeutic.
In the geography that spans the Indian sub-continent there are so many wonders waiting to be savoured, to be enjoyed, to be discovered. People to be met, wildlife to be seen, Nature to be experienced, the wondrous bounty of creation to be enjoyed and remembered. So many people in India are increasingly venturing out to enjoy this beauty. Camping, trekking, hiking, kayaking, rafting, paragliding, off-roading, the whole range of adventurous activities is gaining momentum with each passing day.
Every so often we hear of our friends, relations, colleagues, acquaintances, heading off for an adventure. Some go white water rafting, others go trekking. For some camping is a rush, while for others it is rock climbing or mountaineering. So many motorbikers, mountain bikers and SUV enthusiasts head off into the high Himalayas or deep into the desert looking for that ultimate off-roading trip. The jungles and its wildlife call people deep into the forests. There are bird watchers and tree watchers, looking for a bird or a tree they have never seen before.
And not only those who are seeking an adventure, even corporate organisations are opting to conduct their meetings and conferences away from hotels and resorts. Team building, leadership, stress management, etc are being taught and experienced on the banks of white water rivers and in the middle of jungles, with participants having to sleep in tents to provide them an experience outside their comfort zones. Schools and colleges are regularly taking their students out for a time closer to Nature.
Truly, the world outside the concrete jungles has so much to offer.
However, the outdoors can also be a very unforgiving place. Camping can be great fun, but it can turn into a nightmare very, very quickly. A day hike into the wilderness can soon turn into a survival situation. All it requires is a twisted ankle, or a bruised rib, or just being plain lost. The back trail looks unfamiliar, the trail ahead is unknown, the sky above starts taking on a dark hue ushering in darkness and panic begins to set in, sometimes too quickly. And one has to spend an unplanned night in the wild, unprepared, without the amenities taken for granted back at home. No shelter, no food, no water, possibly injury, lost bearings, no habitation in sight for miles around, the mind starting to play games, visions of crisis cruising in front of the eyes as if it were already a reality.
All because of a wrong turn, or a loose rock you stepped on, or you went down the wrong side of the mountain, or ended up following the wrong stream, or some other innocuous event that changed a happy and enjoyable outing to a struggle for survival.
What a part time adventurer does not realise is that the wilderness, the outdoors, the outback, the bush, the mountain, the desert, the jungle, is a whole different place from what he or she is used to back in the city. The terrain is alien, the comforts that are taken for granted are missing, and there are immense ways in which to get injured or get lost and find oneself in a survival situation, facing an entirely unknown crisis, untrained and unprepared.
In rocky terrain, going up and down rocks and boulders, or stepping over rock caked with slippery moss, it is extremely easy to twist an ankle making any further walking very difficult, if not impossible. Walking in the wilderness, it is not a question of if you will twist your ankle, but when. The question is how badly will you twist your ankle? Injuries happen quickly and without warning, turning happiness into a nightmare in the blink of an eye.
It is even easier to get lost. In the jungle everything looks the same, no distant landmark to orienteer with. Same in the desert. Every compass bearing around you could point the way back to safety ... or further into problems. You could be camped in a nice safe location when you decide to step out to relieve yourself. You walk twenty yards away from camp looking for the privacy provided by the trees. When you look back, nothing looks familiar. You think you recognise something and head for camp, but you just head away in another direction. Soon you are lost not knowing which way to go anymore. And you get deeper and deeper into trouble.
In case you do get lost, the situation gets compounded since it takes a bit of time to realise ... and accept ... that one is lost. In this time gap, when you think that you remember that tree in front, or that rock overhang, or the bend in the creek, hoping more than knowing, and you walk a few more yards, getting even more lost, and then you head deeper into problems, and cannot even find your back to the trail you just left. You can get lost when walking with friends, engrossed in a conversation, not paying attention to the trail. You could be chasing a bird or a butterfly or some game without being situationally aware, and suddenly you find yourself disoriented ... and lost.
What started out as a day hike in the forest, turns into a night in the jungle, together with bugs, critters, rain, cold, and everything else that makes up a jungle.
This is true not just for adventurers and explorers. India is in a geographic zone that is prone to natural calamities and disasters like floods, earthquakes, landslides, cloudbursts, avalanches, mudslides, etc. In just a few minutes entire villages disappear, roads are washed away, communications infrastructure disintegrates and tucked in the folds of Nature, people find themselves at the mercy of Nature’s fury and the knowledge they carry in their heads. The three pillars of survival are knowledge in your head, the resources in your pack and the knowledge of how to use them.
Enjoy the outdoors and learn to respect Mother Nature. Work with her, and do be a confrontationist. You cannot conquer Nature … you can only hope that She allows you to walk on her bosom. If you try and conquer and subdue and overcome Mother Nature, she will whip out her fury and bite you in the ass. Learn the basic of survival and you will have a wonderful time and not succumb to the uncertainties that are abundant out there.