Tuesday, 10 April 2018

TRYST WITH THE UNDERWATER



To be honest, doing a certification in scuba diving is something I had never considered. I looked at scuba diving as something similar to sky diving. You do it once to experience it and that's good enough. And I did. I dived in Croatia while on a vacation and was extremely satisfied with the glimpse of the ocean I got.

But then, over only a year later I met a cousin who in casual conversation asked me - Do you dive? She could've asked me- Have you done scuba diving? But her question was different.

She had done over a 100 dives in her life. When she shared her experience, I finally realised that diving was not a one time sport like sky diving or bungee that you did to tick off a list. Rather, it was almost a way of travelling.

She convinced me to go get my PADI Open Water certification, a simple 4 day course. And she promised me that life wouldn't be the same after. I followed her advice, and I couldn't say it in any other words but that yes life has not been the same for me since.

The course opened up a whole new world for me. A world that I would otherwise simply be gazing at literally and figuratively, only at the surface.

Through my Open Water course, I realised the genius of human beings for having created a self contained underwater breathing apparatus, that would literally allow us to swim like the fish in the ocean. For those of you who didn't know, that's what the acronym SCUBA stands for.

Like the dream of every child, I too wanted to fly like the birds and swim in the ocean like the fish. And here there was something that actually allowed me to do the latter.

The theory classes in my PADI course taught me how this compact well designed equipment works, and once I knew, I realised it was the simplest sport there was.
Simplest, and yet one of the most powerful I have experienced.


It was a little more challenging to practice the theory in the swimming pool sessions, getting used to breathing underwater, practising exchanging regulators with your dive buddy in case your cylinder ran out of oxygen, and being prepared for any emergency that could happen underwater. And once I practised all the skills designed to be a part of the PADI course, I was confident that I would be completely safe deep down in the open ocean.


The next day was the big day when I practised the swimming pool skills in the open water. I loved the adrenaline I was feeling from the pre-dive anxiousness.
But once I jumped into the water, I realised it was the most peaceful and serene place to be in.

Deep down in the ocean, where I could hear only the sound of my breath, where I could see a hundred fish swimming in a school together, where I could almost float like I was in space, I discovered a whole new world that was right in front of me for so many years, but that I never discovered.  

And just when I could not contain my awe of the brilliant coloured fish and coral I was seeing deep in the ocean, my instructor pointed to something behind me.
I turned around to see the most magical sight of my life. A quiet wise old turtle gliding through the water. I felt like a child in a candy store. The turtle just pulled me to follow it like a magnet, and I too glided with the turtle for almost a minute.
All thoughts from my mind vanished and I was in a trance as I absorbed the surreal sights I was seeing. The trance continued even after I came back up to the surface. And a little bit of it has been living with me ever since.


My four day certification course finished, and I was granted an International Diver's Licence, that allowed me to dive anywhere in the world with just another dive buddy.
This was not the end to my tryst with scuba diving, rather the start of a most magical journey.

Every seaside place I have visited since, there's an additional attraction of diving for me. Now I am no longer limited to just interacting with the ocean on the beach side, as I would do earlier. Now I also put on my wet suit and wear my cylinder and dive deep into the waters to discover the hidden treasures that one cannot even fathom from the surface.


Over the past months, I have been lucky enough to swim with the most amazing creatures underwater from whales, to harmless small sharks, to starfish, manta rays, octopus, eels, and the list goes on. Each dive is a new experience for me. I have dived through caves and shipwrecks and got a chance to explore some amazing underwater structures. I am now 20 dives old and have completed my Advanced Water certification, but I still feel it is just the start for me. 70% of the world that is water is out there for me to go out and explore.


 



I would highly recommend scuba diving to anyone who passionate about exploring the world. Simply because as Dave Barry said it, "there's nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean. Except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realise that you've been missing the whole point of the ocean!

Monday, 19 March 2018

The adventure of a Lifetime - Memoirs of a Camper


‘I feel my heart beating
I feel my heart beneath my skin
I feel my heart beating’

These lines from the song Adventure of a lifetime by Coldplay, aptly describes my experience on the adventure camp I had this January in Karwar. Though I was aware it would be an outdoorsy camp that involved living in tents and being surrounded by nature, I wasn’t prepared for what was to come. The 6 days that I was there, tested my strength, endurance and confidence! Rewarding, exciting, unforgettable and unadulterated fun are just few of the words that describe the camp.

The campsite was exquisite! Right on the banks of the river, greenery everywhere, the sounds of nature followed you everywhere you went. What I am going to focus on in this post is the adventure activities.
Rock climbing, rappelling and kayaking sounds super exciting but when you get around to doing them, they are challenging! Let me start with rock climbing and rappelling, if you ever thought pull ups were difficult, try rock climbing (At least pull ups are done in the comfort of an AC room). For those with no upper arm strength (like me), the first task is to be able to pull yourself up, next you have to look around for places where you can put your feet. Even though you have watched people before you do it when it’s finally your turn, you are just so nervous that the instructions the trainer gives you just don’t seem possible. It goes something like this:
Instructor: Place your left foot on that ledge there
Me: moves right leg
Instructor: No, no your left foot.
Me: moves left hand.
Instructor: Ok, look at me, lift your left leg, yes that’s right, now place it on the ledge there. Good!
Me: That’s just one step! How do I get up to where you are???!!
But when you finally get to the top of that rock face you are armed with expert comments to shout to your friend who attempts it next, like you have been doing this for years. Once you’ve caught your breath and got over your fear, the view from the top is just spectacular.
Next comes rappelling, you’ve gone up the rock but how do you come down? You simply walk down the rock face, in adventure terms it’s called rappelling. That first step takes guts! Once you get past the fear of first few steps it really is quite enjoyable. You just need to trust in everything and go for it! Of course, it helps a lot when you have your whole squad cheering for you and instructors that shout their lungs out and tell you not to give up! I must admit though once you are actually done with the task it’s the greatest feeling in the world. I understand why adventure activities are so great for boosting your confidence.
Little did I know, kayaking would be one the hardest things I have ever done in my life so far. We set off for an overnight stay on an island 3 hours away in our pretty kayaks and canoes by 2:30 pm. It started off fine but then we were kayaking against the flow of the river and it was excruciating! The instructors were there with us throughout helping us but it was something that we had to do on our own. No matter how hard we paddled the water would push us in the opposite direction but surprisingly all of us managed to get past that rough patch by ourselves. When we saw the island it was the most wondrous sight on the planet! Once the whole group had reached, it was almost 6, we cheered, laughed and cried about what we had just done. There were so many instances where most of us were on the verge of giving up and just staying there in the middle of the river but the encouraging word of the instructors, camp guides and most importantly our friends kept us going. I am immensely proud of what I accomplished that day and I am sure all my fellow classmates would agree. The funny thing was once it was time for the next set of activities we were all up and ready to go. During the campfire session there was this sudden burst of energy in everyone and we sang and danced till the guides had to finally shoo us off into our tents. The journey back was a breeze, we were actually very surprised at how fast we reached.
The challenges I overcame was just one of the many highlights of this trip. Singing and dancing around a campfire, setting up our own tents, cooking our own meals, getting your feet dirty, sharing these magical experiences with friends made this trip something I will remember even when I’m 80. It also helped that we had some awesome camp guides and instructors with us.
There you have it, my adventure of a lifetime (so far!). I can finally can relate to all those motivational quotes about “greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it”. Yes! I kayaked for 3 hours and it was painful and I was on the verge of tears but I DID IT! Now when I look back at it, it feels (in the words of Ron Weasly) bloody brilliant!!! Now that I have actually had this experience I feel like I’m allowed to give some gyaan on the lines of, don’t ever belittle yourself! The possibilities are infinite. So now to everyone reading this, go have your adventure of a lifetime!

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Hello Himalayas!

The International Baccalaureate (IB) learner profile describes a wide range of human capacities and responsibilities that go beyond academic success. They imply a commitment to help all members of the school community learn to respect themselves, others and the world around them. The profile aims to develop learners who are: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.
Having worked with many international schools for their outbound programmes, teachers sometimes struggle to ensure that children imbibe these values. Outbound programme is one such opportunity for students to explore themselves and the values that IB encourages them to have.
Trailblazers organised an adventure programme in the scenic environs of Lower Himalayas for a group of students from MYP 4, 5 and DP in February 2017. Students enjoyed their stay in tents and did wide range of activities including valley crossing, jummaring, bridge slithering, hiking, kayaking, local village interaction and rafting. The teachers on this programme ensured that students were away from technology for four days and that made all the difference.  Away from their gadgets, it was nice to see students communicating with each other, playing and observing. Their evening reflection sessions turned very interesting where Trailblazers experts gently nudged the students to reflect and introspect on the day’s activities through discussions, sketches and writing down their thoughts about their experience.
Trailblazers wishes that more schools would undertake such focused outdoor programmes instead of visiting ten places in four days under the garb of ‘Educational tours.’ A focused outdoor programme can be designed to give more meaningful experiences and specific learning outcomes for our young generation. Do email us on contact@trailblazersindia.com to design an outdoor programme for your school.

Friday, 30 June 2017

On the Brink - The Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti)


The Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti) is a small 23 cm owlet endemic to Central India. This species was once known to be almost extinct until recent sighting in the forest of Central India in Melghat in 1997. Regular sightings of this owlet are documented from Melghat near Nagpur, Tansa near Mumbai, Nashik and Toranmal regions in Maharashtra and some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat states. It is listed as Schedule I species of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, the highest protection possible for an owl species in India. This is also listed as Critically Endangered in IUCN Red List and also listed under CITES Appendix I. The owlet prefers deciduous forest habitat especially dominated by teak trees. They are mostly diurnal but active during early morning and late evening hours. Due to its shy nature, these owlets are quite difficult to be sighted and generally they go unrecorded. An estimated global population of this species is 300-400 all around Central India. The threats to this species include habitat destruction, cutting of teak wood for commercial purpose and forest fires. Conservation efforts include an awareness and education programme among villagers on the significance of saving the forest owlet, avoiding forest fires and saving teak forests.
Photo courtesy: Rajneesh Suvarna

On the Brink is our regular column on endangered species in Ecotrail our bimonthly magazine on Environment and Education.
Visit http://www.trailblazersindia.com/ecotrail/ecotrail.htm

Friday, 16 December 2016

Blowing in the Wind...


So many questions and we are looking all around…….. the answer my friend…. is blowing in the wind. Last month the Nobel Committee on literature in Sweden awarded the Nobel prize for literature to the uncivil but iconic figure of the 21st century, Bob Dylan. A rebel with many causes. Bob Dylan came by at a unique time where the world was undergoing changes. Industrial revolution was taking shape in Europe and America.The world was just about settling down after being battered by two world wars and the first use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world was broadly drawn apart by two primary political ideologies. The Communist thought, practiced and led by Russia and China, large parts of Eastern Europe, many Latin American countries besides many African and Asia countries and the other called themselves Free world democracies where the people decided who would lead them through elections like Western Europe, India, Japan, USA, Australia etc. The world was bipolar one led by Russia and the other by America. Two bloody wars for world primacy was being fought in Vietnam & Cambodia and the other in Korea by USA and Soviet Union. The youth in Europe and America took up cudgels with the then government, against the war which was not connected to them- and the Rock & Roll culture was born. The youth world over did not want to fight battles. They wanted love and peace thereby the famous sign of Peace, love etc. Hippie culture was on the rise as a sign against any form of rules which were seen by the youth as unjust laws, be it in schools, university or work place. “Woodstock” a rock show over three days still remains a milestone in the growing liberal movement. Drugs, smoking, rock music, modern art, free love and political opposition was the norm. Hijacks, Police brutality and army excess anywhere in the world was rebelled against. One such rebel was Bob Dylan. There will be many a debate on nominating and awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel prize. Was it appropriate, mainly from Purists, who will readily acclaim García Márquez or Salman Rushdie or Rabindranath Tagore as worthy of such a prize. The truth is Bob Dylan is an amazing poet and musician who poignantly brought out the pain and suffering of the youth and the inequalities that existed then. He constantly was against the establishment forcing them to right their wrong. He spoke about the unjust wars, the mass destruction of forests, the exploitation of labour and pollution. He was intolerant to the world and the United Nations for being tolerant to apartheid in South Africa and the sins of politicians. He expressed love for all humanity in his writing and practiced in his life. His famous song and lilting lyrics of “Blowing in the wind”, “Like a rolling stone”, “Knocking on heavens door” are a landmark both in music and poetry that connected with the youth of the sixties to the eighties. But they apply to our lives today even more, since the inequalities still exist, planet earth is on self-destruction mode, gender bias, religion, caste and colour divide still exist. Congratulations Bob Dylan on receiving the award and just like you, playing difficult to reach and a truant to the Nobel awards committee who just can’t reach you ……. They should have known better. The answer my friend is Blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind…

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Education: A Tall Order?


Every year, the months of March to June are times when both parents and children undergo an arduous journey of being tested, getting admitted and being bench marked, notwithstanding the interventions of the government education officers and the glee amongst the journalists of the fourth estate.
The news being created for them free of charge means they have to use less grey cells to write meaningful, impacting, transformational articles or editorials. All the good deeds and misdeeds across the nation come out from all parts of the country. There is woeful lack of clarity and purpose all around, be it examinations, results, admissions, discipline, leaking of question papers, the toppers and the failures, the success against all odds and failure due to missing the train to help you reach the examination hall on time… the train being cancelled, the inability to show compassion by educationists and soulful efforts of a rickshaw puller in Patna whose son or daughter makes the grade. If we want to negotiate the minefield of education, it is a veritable mess from the nursery to the highest levels of education. That education is a State subject and the Centre has a HRD ministry. Between the two HRD ministries in New Delhi and the State education ministry there is a wide gap. More and more schools are moving out from the clutches of the State Government to become a CBSE or ICSE followers as now they find that too stifling and many of them, the new ones are becoming International schools. Are the teachers prepared? Is the infrastructure available? Is the community prepared to pay the kind of fees it requires? Almost in all the cases the answer is no. Many have created the infrastructure first and in due course got the affiliation. The school was provided land at a reasonable cost like hospitals so as to benefit the local community. But if the locals cannot afford the education, then the schools import the students from afar to fill the seats as they can afford but the local community cannot. Admissions incidentally in Mumbai and Delhi are only given to students residing within the 5 km radii of the school. The point being made is simple. Keep it simple. The unnecessary tension faced by all is not even worth the effort because few sell quality in the end. Quality is a misused word. What we get instead is a compromise. We compromise is selection of the best manpower, we compromise in the selection of the best supplier, we compromise on selecting the best materials, we compromise with safety, we compromise on admissions, examinations and we compromise with education which is now sold as a commodity. In the end we surround ourselves with mediocrity. The market forces are at play and in a matter of a few years the school will lose its sheen. Compromise is a short term game. The game changer is to constantly surround yourself with the best. Thus what is the magic formula to succeed? Schools impart knowledge and that and that alone should be its focus. Schools will lose out if they assume the term I mentioned earlier. “Knowledge” does not mean books alone; it is imparting all round knowledge for the mind, body and soul. Children are sharp and know when they are being fooled. So transparency, quality, honesty, compassion, understanding and immense subject knowledge of the faculty, well stocked library, intrepid and enquiring laboratories, clean toilets and a humungous playgrounds will define the school. I am aware this costs. Never did I say education comes cheap. Quality outdoor education or camping like quality schools does not come cheap either. Parents must learn to pay and schools should invest in the magic formula. Be it a municipal run school or an ICSE, CBSE, Cambridge, IB or whatever else comes around. People will pay if they know top and uncompromising quality and safety is on the menu.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Safety in Outbound Programs


Every once in a while we are faced with a grim reminder as people, as organization, as a country, that how callous are we when dealing with human life. The tragedy of young engineering students falling prey to the inviting sea near Alibaug when the college went on a “Picnic”?!! Not far back a school kid crushed his leg in one of the rides during a school trip. A year back we saw another set of young students of engineering from Hyderabad washed away in Manali when the sluice gates of the river were opened. We saw school children from Mumbai on a school trip, injured seriously while taking a horse cart ride in Panchgani tableland, another where the child was dragged by the horse and killed, and when a travel company took children to a high altitude camp in the Himalayas and had no clue why the child was having a headache. They gave the child crocin and the next morning the school child was no more having passed away in the night because of high altitude sickness. The company did not have a clue to the problem. Just by bringing the kid to a lower altitude or the plains would have been enough, but knowledge is not available and the school will not pay for having such a team and thus bus operators and all sundry have joined the bandwagon of this business. These companies still continue their business either under new names or some have even the audacity to continue the reckless business since schools still patronize them as they offer cheap service. Thus the statement in the first paragraph of this article “How callous are we with human life”. Little do we realise we could be the victim one day. We often notice parents walking on the road with their young child holding their right hand and walking on the road completely exposed to the traffic flowing from behind, despite the footpath being there. How often do we see cars, two wheelers racing above speed breakers!!! What is wrong with the collective us? While we are seeing this, one is helpless on correcting the nauseating attitude of drivers and pedestrians alike. So we can all go with the adage we are all like that only. Safety is a culture, be it at home, school, college, work place, roads or during the use of public utilities. One can never be safe enough.

Basic Outdoor Safety Tips

• Carry your First Aid Kit Always

• Check out the weather

• Dress appropriately. Wear complete safety gear during adventure activities

• Carry enough supplies

• Carry maps, torches, caps, whistle, hand sanitizer

• Plan your trip well in advance

• Keep someone informed

• Eat and drink frequently, stay hydrated

• Never leave a campfire unattended

• Never enter pools, beaches without life guards

If we depend on others for our safety then it is a big risk but sometimes it is inevitable. You hope your driver is a safe driver. When you board trains, planes, then you are outsourcing your safety concerns and here too we weigh our choice depending on our knowledge and information. More often than not we are more responsible for incidents that take place since we have taken safety as a given and for granted. Safety costs and we are often not prepared to pay since it is not a visible service. But a team of trained staff will ensure and minimise the risk you are exposed to or take. Simple things like ensuring the coach drivers are well rested, do not consume alcohol prior to driving, team eats after the guests have eaten, no swimming policy, doing a fire drill, carrying a properly checked medical kit with valid dated medicines, doing an reconnaissance of the site to be visited, checking and rechecking the form of the participants for allergies or any other medical issue, blood group and type are all to ensure the trip is uneventful from the medical or safety point of view. Trailblazers even works on the customized menu to ensure that they are ideal for the guests. There are scores of concerns specially for school or college camps that must be addressed starting from the planning stage, where and when to go, completing the procedure of enrollment at least 4 months prior to the journey, making assessments of the company they are partnering to lead them, clearly stating the aims and objectives and the learning outcomes from the trip, completing a safety briefing with accompanying teachers students and parents. These are just some of the basic protocols, there are lots more. I can say proudly that for 22 years Trailblazers has had a completely safe experience because safety is a priority and a Trailblazers culture and we continue to learn and adopt more and more safe practices. We have inbuilt protocols which are followed zealously. We have though miles to go. -Editor