A Month on Two Feet (Part 1): Pack Mules
The monsoon begins with afternoon gusts of wind and rain, a small hint of the season to come. We see a new side of Bangalore on these blustery days, and I choose to take the weather as a sign that it is indeed time to move on.
We've lived in Bangalore for four months and three days now, in a lovely apartment that lies beneath the shade of a magnificent old rain tree. It stands 7 storeys tall, its branches seemingly spreading just as wide. We've spent many mornings on the balcony under it's umbrella, sipping coffee and working. Perched over the street, we've been able to observe the ins and outs of our little neighbourhood—there's a house across the street that always has cats on its doorstep; sari-clad women catch up on daily gossip at the foot of a narrow staircase; and Raj the neighbourhood vegetable wallah pushes his baby blue cart stocked with groceries (he's even brought a parting gift of lettuce to the household). We've also spent a number of evenings on the balcony watching bats soar over the rain tree at dusk like clockwork, drinking homemade lime sodas, and plotting next adventures. And now, the little scheming we plan to do is done and it is time to bid Bangalore farewell—we are embarking on the last phase of our sojourn in India.
The plan is to spend one month in Northern India, seeing as much of it as possible by virtue of our own two feet. We're hoping to be immersed in Himalayan nature and culture; for us, that means trekking, camping, and climbing through mountain passes and village settlements. We've done a little research online, in guide books, and in trading ice cream for insight with our friend and trek guide Vinay. We've gone so far as to flag the places and trekking routes that piqued our interested, but we have nothing booked beyond tomorrow's flight into Delhi. Choosing to leave things open-ended, we pack our bags with all possibilities in mind.
Tagging along with me is my big ol' 55 L backpack, which I picked up in Alaska before my very first multi-day backcountry trek. It's been along on several adventures through British Columbia and the Cascade region since, but the high passes of Northern India will be an entirely new experience. Naturally, a different mindset is needed to pack for a month-long camping and trekking expedition, especially with a goal to be self-sufficient over relying on packaged tours, guides, or mules.
Having just re-packed my life back into the two suitcases I'd arrived with, minimalism was not far out of mind. The concept seems to have a degree of definitions, depending on who you ask. In the art world, minimalism is a movement dealing striving for simple forms and exposure a subject's essence. It can be explained by saying, 'less is more'. The Minimalists joke that, "to be a minimalist you must live with less than 100 things, you can’t own a car or a home or a television, you can’t have a career, you must live in exotic hard-to-pronounce places all over the world, you must start a blog..." but they actually define it as, "a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom." To me, minimalism means moving forwards only carrying the things that add great value to my life. I must fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, trying not to accumulate more than what I need or will use regularly but also collecting items of aesthetic or sentimental value on occasion, such a rug woven with threads of sea-green and desert-red to mark my time in India. I'm very much still in the process of defining what the concept means to me, but I think that's okay. What I like about Joshua Becker's description of it as, "the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it," is emphasis on mindfulness; that we should be aware of what moves us forward and what holds us back. While I certainly still have some boxes stored at my parents' place in Vancouver, they are carefully curated belongings—art prints, records, books, antiques, clothes—that I look forward to reuniting with somewhere down the road. They can stay in their neatly labelled boxes for now; the task at hand is to pack for a month-long expedition with a 55 L pack...
I started by laying out some clothes on my bed, foolishly thinking I could add more to the pile if there was extra space at the end. I'd done a few 2-week trips in India with a smaller 35 L backpack and after coming home with unworn clothes, I tried to be fairly conservative this time. I put together a fairly small pile. The next step was gathering all the gear required: hiking boots, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, stove, cookware, headlamp, etc. With all of these laid out on my new rug, my pack suddenly looked way too small. I had to leave more behind but couldn't pull the trigger on anything in the pile. But then, Luke reminded me that I'd be carrying everything on my back as we trekked for days and gaining a fair bit of elevation. Surveying the pile again and considering if an item was worth it's weight, I managed to narrow it down to the essentials. And so after much thought and pacing around with my hands on my hips, the items I'll be carrying on my back for 30 days are as follows:
DSLR in case + Charger + Memory Cards
MEC Day Pack with Passport, Headlamp, Phone, Charger, Battery Pack
Down Vest in stuffsack
Patagonia Rain Shell & Rain Pants
Patagonia Rock Pants
1 Pair Shorts
2 Breathable T-Shirts
1 Tank Top
2 Sports Bras
4 Pairs Socks
1 Pack Towel
Pocket Stove (Propane to be purchased in Delhi)
MSR Water Filtration System
Pack Rain Cover
Multi-Tool / Cutlery
Emergency / First-Aid Kit
Tent (going in Luke's bag because he's a keeper)
Somehow, and only after some real-life tetris, I managed to arrange all of these items in my bag leaving enough space for dehydrated food packs (yet to be purchased), snacks, and water. I swung the pack on to test out the weight, instantly feeling very much like a pack mule. I thought about slogging up the face of a mountain with this much baggage and tried, once again, to reconsider anything of significant weight. The biggest culprit was my DSLR and 24-70mm lens which weight 3.3 lbs. altogether, but I know I'd regret the alternative (relying on my iPhone 4 or Luke's phone, which defaults to beauty mode.)
And so, it is time to bid our rain tree goodbye. We'll stay up tonight to catch a 4am flight to Delhi and allow things to unfold from there. We've parted ways with familiar faces in the neighbourhood, including Mr. Prakash who sits on a white plastic chair outside his shop and greets us daily. Even the security guard next door has asked where we're 'shifting' to. I've grown fond of Indian diction, a way of phrasing that abandons shortcuts to preserve elegance. 'There's coffee,' becomes 'Coffee is there, Madam,' while 'moving' becomes 'shifting' to capture a wider meaning.
Indeed, our shifting across India continues...