Thursday, February 17, 2011

Young Trekkie @ 60

Can a person, even at the age of 60, be enthusiastic about going on trekking expeditions to various parts of the country, instead of leisurely sipping a cup of coffee, reading newspapers and watching TV? All those who disagree should meet K.M. Gopi, Organising Secretary, Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI), Gangotri Unit in city.
A very friendly and jovial person, age does not come in the way of Gopakka's (or Gopamma as she is known to her friends) trekking.
We were curious to know more about how trekking became an integral part of her life and here is what Gopi had to say....

How did this thirst for trekking begin?
Gopi: During my childhood days, since we siblings grew up with our cousins — most of whom were boys — I became more like a tomboy. Also in school, we had a lesson on Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquering the Everest and wondered if I could at least go anywhere near such an achievement. The spirit of adventure was always there in me.
Later on, when I shifted to Mysore, the adventure spirit was rekindled when I saw a news item by the Youth Hostels Association in Star of Mysore saying there was a trekking expedition to Himalayas. As I was working and independent, I thought why not give it a try? I registered my name for the expedition and the journey which began in 1993 is still going on. A part of the credit also goes to Star of Mysore [laughs].

A little about your family and education…
Gopi: I am a native of Kerodi near Sakleshpura. I have six sisters and two brothers. Since we had some financial problems, I left studies after SSLC and got a job. I have been working at the Co-operation Department and will be retiring this April.

How was your very first expedition?
Gopi: My first trek was to Himalayan Chandrakhani Pass. I was then 43. It was a new, scary and exciting experience. I had no idea about how such expeditions are carried out. YHA was very supportive and provided all the necessary equipment. The first few days were tough. The cold weather, heavy backpack, steep routes and the stress got the better of me. But I did manage with a little help from fellow trekkers. At that time, I thought I will never come on a trekking expedition again. However, once the trek was completed, it gave me an amazing feeling, a sense of accomplishment.

How has your journey been since then?
Gopi: From then on, I started going for trekking every year and completed all the National-level treks. In 1997, I was made the camp leader. It has been wonderful and I am ever grateful to YHA for providing such an opportunity. You get to meet people from different walks of life and learn so many things. All my leaves at office get over soon. But I have no regrets as these experiences and the friends I have made are priceless. Also, for the past few years, I have been celebrating my birthday in the Himalayas!

How did it feel to be a part of the tiger and elephant census team?
Gopi: I was lucky to get such a chance. We traversed to every nook and corner of the forest and I got to see the real natural habitats of these animals. It was very exciting to follow the foot prints of tigers & cheetahs and see almost a hundred gaurs resting together. The knowledge I acquired about the animals from the forest staff and tribes who accompanied us was immense.

You have been to innumerable treks within the State and the Country so far and you would have been part of many interesting incidents. Can you share some with us?
Gopi: We had once been to Bisle Ghat near Sakleshpur for trekking. While walking in the forest, we realised that we had lost our way. Not knowing what to do, we decided to follow a stream thinking it will eventually end in a waterfalls. After a long walk, the stream vanished leaving bare rocks exposed! But we heard the sound of water and reached the falls.
We had to go down the falls to reach the village. There were 8 women and 3 men in our group. We made our way straight down the falls in the water using ropes. That night we camped in the forest, taking turns to keep guard and continued the next morning. We were supposed to reach the destined village on the previous day at 4 pm but we reached only the next day at 3 pm. It was a great camping experience.
During another trek, we were walking on snow and one of my friends wanted to make an ice sculpture. I found a stick lying on snow and thought it would be easier to use it to dig the snow. I pulled hard at the stick but it did not budge. Later we realised that we were standing atop the roof of a house covered completely in snow!
However, not all treks leave us with happy memories. There was this one time when we were trekking on Chamundi Hill. Someone from top disturbed a bee hive close to the path we had taken and the bees started attacking. They don't sting if you remain still. But a kid in our group moved and the bees attacked him. To save him, our leader covered the kid with his shirt and rushed downhill, getting continuously stung by bees.
At the foot of the hill, a person helped to drive away the bees and they were taken to the hospital. I had to stand still, balancing on two rocks, for almost 20 minutes until the entire episode got over.

A few words about YHA.
Gopi: As its motto says, the Gangotri Unit of YHA is a real 'Home away from home.' Girls and boys, young and old become like a family. Girls have complete security at the hostel and all are well-behaved. Habits like smoking, drinking and gambling are strictly prohibited.
We take up many social causes apart from trekking. Recently we had organised a drive to clean Chamundi Hills of plastic. One more was to plant saplings at Karighatta to make it greener. We have a lot of support from our members and public for such causes and plan to conduct more in the future.

You will be retiring from your job this April. Will you be retiring from trekking also?
Gopi: Trekking is like an addiction but a good one. It has become a part of me. Retiring from job is more of an advantage. I will then be free to pack my bags and leave for a trek anytime! 

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated Feb. 17)


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