The Mountains Within You…

“The mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb” – Najwa Zebian

You know what happens when you rekindle a lost love for something or someone…? Ask yourself – what happens? It creates a bittersweet memory, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what happened to me when I visited the Kumaon Hills in April this year.

For a planner like me, who likes to plan everything in her life, guess what! Life gave me some of the biggest lessons – that you cannot plan; because while you plan – life happens to you. And when you’re stumbling and trying to regain your feet, one of the best ways to put things into perspective is to travel.

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The mountains we climb; Photo: Tanya Munshi

For a couple years since 2014, travel was a word that didn’t exist in my dictionary. I made the mistake of shunning it while fighting personal battles. By the time the battles ended, and the dust after the storm settled – I got a chance to work with the fantastic team at The Mountain Walker. I joined the tribe of mountain travellers on my first official collaboration, to visit Kumaon Hills and discover what the life up in the hills had to offer.

The journey was something to remember – traveling with a band of boys aged 29 – 35, with me being the eldest at 37. I was initially feeling very embarrassed, not sure if after all these years I still had it in me to travel again. I was an athlete in school and a decent swimmer. Being an army kid, my dad had ensured that I went camping often. But somewhere over the years – in the race to complete my education and make a career – everything that I loved got stacked away to gather dust on a shelf – and then, of course… Life happened.

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More than just a natural boundary wall; Photo: Tanya Munshi

When God closes one door, He opens another – but not always on the same floor. You have to take the stairs, a ladder, a rope or whatever, but each time, God makes the journey a tad bit more difficult for you. He throws in some extra weight (read – responsibilities) that you have to carry like a backpack – so that when you reach the summit you appreciate the view a lot more than you would have without all the weight to carry.

Now as a single mum, when I set out as a solo-entrepreneur, I realised I was starting the climb with two very highly intensive and demanding roles – so you can very well imagine my state. Both my babies are equally precious to me – with blood, sweat and tears I’ve raised my child who is just 4.5 years old, and my enterprise that is all of 6 years now.

But this story is not about me – it’s about my journey to the mountains that rekindled my lost love for travel; and especially when I stood in front of them, the mountains that made me realise how small my problems are.

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The view from the top; Photo: Tanya Munshi

As I stood there on the mountain slopes and looked up – remember, I had to LOOK UP AT THEM – I had to squint my eye, and their sheer size, their mere presence just shut me up. I felt that these huge creations of Mother Nature are much more than just natural boundary walls. They remind me how small my problems and me are.

That’s why I love the mountains. They don’t hide anything, unlike the seas. Even though I may swim in them, I wouldn’t trust the deep blue seas and oceans as I don’t know what monsters it may hide underneath – just like a person who can mask himself with a façade. I don’t like the unknown.  Again, I’m a planner – I like to know what to expect if I take Plan A or a Plan B and for me, the sea is unnerving because it hides, whereas the mountains don’t.

The mountains have lessons to teach – to stand tall, strong and proud. They tell us how to weather a storm and block everything that could harm the ones that you love – including oneself. They teach us not to hide anything – to be honest with the world including oneself. They show us to protect, love and nurture those who come to us. The mountains remind you that sky is the limit; they teach you endurance, strength, compassion and how to love to oneself and to others.

Mountains remind us of how they’ve stood the test of time. They’ve witnessed great battles of the centuries and thousands of seasons. The mountains may have crumbled a little here and there, but they grow back and heal. They grow trees, shrubs and bushes and become homes to animals – which remind us that we can heal ourselves too and create an ecosystem for those around us.

The mountains remind us that our problems are not as big as they seem. They remind us that our egos are a tiny pebble when seen from the peak. They give us a whole new perspective towards life – of how things are when we are downhill and how they are when we turn around to climb and reach the peak.

The mountains acquaint us with the dangers with every step – they don’t fool us. They teach us focus – that one wrong step could take us straight down and cripple us. The mountains can be unforgiving that way – but that’s its nature. It doesn’t mollycoddle us or offer life on a platter. It gives us real life problems, which we learn to overcome as we climb. It shows us how life can get harsh with the change of seasons – from the brittle freezing winter winds to the harsh burning rays of the sun.

Can there be any better teacher than a mountain? I think not. Can there be anything bigger than a mountain? Only God. And what lies between – is you and me – the mortals who think no end of ourselves. With the cars we drive, with the brands we own – how foolishly we think that’s the peak – but in fact, the mountains that we climb are the ones within us that define who we are and not any inanimate object with a fancy price tag attached to it.

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Enjoying a moment of quiet; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
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Perspective; Photo: Tanya Munshi
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A breather; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

Tanya Munshi Diaries: Pit Stop at Nainital

Friday, 28th April 2017, Nainital, Uttarakhand, India:

I’m notorious for my hunger pangs and the team has finally gotten used to it.

Kovid is from Nainital and he joined us in the jeep on our journey back. Once at Nainital, he showed us around some beautiful spots near the lake and took us to a small shop to enjoy deliciously made mutton and vegetarian momos.

We waited patiently till our plates arrived. I shared – yes, I told you – the mountains made me share my food with my tribe. It is, after all, a matter of survival that the mountains teach you.

Where there is food, I will go. 🙂

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Momos with the fiery sauce; Photo: Tanya Munshi
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Fresh fruits galore; Photo: Tanya Munshi

Tanya Munshi Diaries: Saying Goodbyes

Friday, 28th April 2017, Geeli Mitti Farms, Village Mahrora, Uttarakhand, India:

I hate saying goodbyes, especially when the experience and the companionship have been so wonderful. I hate to admit that this trip was absolutely perfect and once you have tasted something so perfect – letting go becomes even more difficult. I have been learning to art letting go of people, places and experiences – but this time it became very difficult for me. 

We shook hands and hugged almost everyone who was leaving that day. I sincerely hope we all get to meet soon again.

Kunwar Singh and I too shared some warm cuddly moments. I missed my dog Lisa who’s up in heaven (all dogs go to heaven you know). I told Kunwar I’ll miss him and that I’ll be back soon.

A few team photographs later, we walked down the hill-side, to hop onto our jeep and start our journey to Kathgodam.

 I left my heart back in the mountains and I am unapologetic about it.

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Cuddly goodbyes to Kunwar Singh; Photo Courtesy: Tanya Munshi
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The Mountain Walker team at Geeli Mitti; Photo: Ganesh

Tanya Munshi Diaries: A Walk in the Hills

Friday, 28th April 2017, Village Mahrora, Uttarakhand, India:

Leaving Ameen to rest for a while, with Abhinav and Achyu out exploring on their own, Abhishek and I decided to walk down to the Maggi Point and further ahead.

We relished hearty bowls of the soupy Maggi with farm fresh mint and peas, and I even shared my bowl of Maggi with Abhishek. It left him slightly baffled as I’m known not to share my food with anyone. I think the mountains do that to you – you learn to share.

After Maggi, we took a walk along the mountains to see the sights on the other side.

I even climbed the few steep stairs to a small Hanuman temple, that was home to a small 12-year-old Hanuman Ji. It was an auspicious day as it was Akshay Tritiya. The sight from the top was beautiful; however, I froze while getting down as I suddenly remembered my fear of stairs, which I had forgotten in a long time. Thanks to Abhishek who offered a helping hand in spite of a leg injury, I managed to step down the steep flight of stairs with his help.

We continued our walk through the winding roads in silence. You will realise it the next time you’re in the hills, how it has the power to silence you and makes you slow down.

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The absolutely delicious mint and tea Maggi; Photo: Tanya Munshi
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The steep staired Hanuman Temple; Photo:Tanya Munshi
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A nice little break; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

Tanya Munshi Diaries: Winding Down

Friday, 28th April 2017, Geeli Mitti Farms, Village Mahrora, Uttarakhand, India:

The day finally arrived when we had to start packing our bags. I watched how there was a heavy silence in the Bamboo Loft – our home. With The Beatles playing at the backdrop, I watched how Bay from England was dancing on her own and packing her rucksack. 

The volunteers and participants, who had been staying there for over a month, were all on their respective beddings, packing their personal items. 

I sat down with Ameen and Abhishek at the Bamboo Loft as we discussed the project work, and then dived back into some fun and laughter. I took photographs of everyone – and for the first time I saw some of them smile for the camera. Thank you Ashish and Kovid for smiling back finally! 

We witnessed Shagun giving certificates to the participants – who became certified Cob House builders. For once I was so jealous of them.

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Ashish Godara in his fun mode; Photo: Tanya Munshi
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Just about captured Kovid Bhatt smiling; Photo: Tanya Munshi
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Abhishek and Ameen relaxing in the Bamboo Loft; Photo: Tanya Munshi

Tanya Munshi Diaries: Party Time

Thursday, 27th April 2017, Geeli Mitti Farms, Village Mahrora, Uttarakhand, India:

All work and no party would be sacrilege. Yes, we did have our moments of fun and laughter, but as our trip was coming to an end, everyone decided to throw a small party under the starry moonless night.

Songs playing on loop on our mobiles, the iconic ‘Haal Chaal Thik Thak Hai’ – from the film ‘Mere Apne’ – aptly resonated with all our lives. The big degrees, the high paying jobs and the security of a dead end comfort zone – there was a reason why we were all there at that point of time in our lives. Truly, the mountains make you think and retrospect.

We talked about life back in the cities and suddenly we were feeling a bit melancholy. We didn’t want the night to end. We didn’t want to go back home to reality.

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The party gets kicked off with Shagun’s birthday celebrations; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal

Tanya Munshi Diaries: Interesting Conversations

Thursday, 27th April 2017, Geeli Mitti Farms, Village Mahrora, Uttarakhand, India:

During our entire stay at Geeli Mitti, we ensured that we spoke to every volunteer and participant of the workshop. We interacted with Ashish from Rajasthan, who spent a few years in the corporate world (in the construction business) only to realise that he wanted more from life. After having saved up enough, he’s been travelling for quite a while now – gathering key life lessons and learning how to build earth homes, before he can set up his base at Dharamshala.

The other interesting conversation I had was with Ganesh from Vidharbha district in Maharashtra. Infamously known for its highest rate of farmer suicides, young Ganesh has been trained in square foot gardening and sustainable living and agriculture. He’s here assisting Shagun at Geeli Mitti and hopes to go back and set up something that’s both environmentally and financially viable to the people back home.

Speaking to each one of them has been truly a humbling experience and I’m thankful to each one of them for having shared such deep knowledge about life and living with me.

In all this, I also lend a helping hand to the Dajus in plucking Masoor Dal from the fields. With Kunwar Singh exploring the fields with me, it was such a fulfilling day.

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Ganesh Maghade giving beautiful insights into so many aspects of life and living; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal
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Masoor Dal picking; Photo: Tanya Munshi

Tanya Munshi Diaries: Working Day

Thursday, 27th April 2017, Geeli Mitti Farms, Village Mahrora, Uttarakhand, India:

Ever since we started our journey, our entire team comprising Ameen, Abhishek, Abhinav, Achyu and me have been working round the clock.

We already had discussions with Shagun about a typical day at Geeli Mitti and her visions for setting up this fabulous social and environmental enterprise.

So today, we set all our fun, laughter and mischief aside for some time and focused on the project.

With Kunwar Singh by our side, lending us a friendly lick and a cuddle every now and then, the team and I had engaging conversations with Shagun and were happily busy getting to know more about the place.

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Achyu captures the roof building process; Photo: Tanya Munshi
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Kunwar Singh giving cuddly breaks during the project work; Photo: Tanya Munshi

Tanya Munshi Diaries: Trip to Maggi Point

Wednesday, 26th April 2017, Maggi Point, Village Mahrora, Uttarakhand, India:

It was evening and we were almost done with our work. Coming to this fantastic place, it would be an utter crime to sit indoors and twiddle our thumbs.

It was getting dark and some of us decided to visit the nearby Maggi Point for a snack.

Shreya, Abhinav, Achyu, Ganesh and I walked for about 10-15 mins to taste some home made Maggi noodles with tomatoes, onions and mint – yes, mountain mint in hot steaming plates of Maggi noodles. We sat in silence eating and discussing life in the hills and how brilliantly different it is from life back in the city.

A simple wishing of ‘Ram Ram’ to the locals and the way they reciprocated made me feel at home instantly.

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Achyu and Abhinav at Maggi Point; Photo: Tanya Munshi
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Eagerly waiting to have the special Maggi; Photo: Abhinav Kaushal

Tanya Munshi Diaries: A Visit to the Village

Wednesday, 26th April 2017, Geeli Mitti Farms, Village Mahrora, Uttarakhand, India:

A 10 – 15 min walk up from the Bamboo Loft at Geeli Mitti, we visited two homes in Mahrora village – one of Dayal Daju’s (Daju means Bhaiya, Brother) and the other was Tika Daju’s. I walked through the wheat fields – I stood there mesmerised watching the wheat sway gently with the breeze against the backdrop of the hills. Could there be anything more breathtaking a sight than this? 

When I reached Dayal Bhaiya’s house, I was greeted with a cup of tea and I talked to him about his life up in Mahrora village. Apart from being a farmer, he renders his services to Geeli Mitti by cooking a hearty meal for all of us. He has some agricultural land where he grows his own crops, has his own house, lives with this family and children, his farm animals – I felt he was the richest man on earth and people like us coming from big metropolitan cities are actually so poor.  

Tika Bhaiya’s house was another wonderful interaction. He is primarily a farmer but also works at the Shaolin Gurukul that’s located right next to Geeli Mitti. He also doubles up as a cook. His little nephew showed me a little barn swallow nest in their room which has four baby birds. I really liked how they all lived in harmony with nature. 

Walking back from their house, my eyes filled with tears. I made a call back home and spoke to my Dad, an ex-mountaineer himself and a retired army colonel – I did not have to say much and he understood exactly how I felt while standing at the foothills of Kumaon. Somewhere both my Dad and I are connected to the hills, our heart belongs there and we know it, yet we make do with the life in the city for various reasons of urban requirements.

I stood there for a while and looked at the mountains. My goodness, they’re so huge, they’re so strong, could there be anything as stronger than a mountain? I think not. When I first reached Geeli Mitti, my team got worried why the bubbly chirpy Tanya became so quiet – I couldn’t quite explain to them that it was the sheer magnitude of the mountains, the strength, the silence in which they exude so much power humbled me in a fraction of a second. I have realised that there is no more ‘I’ left – it’s ‘Us’ – nature and me. How could I be so foolish to think that life would always revolve around me when there is something more marvellously strong than me – the mountains.