Friday, November 16, 2012

Hat trick - Integral Development Lab (IDL) at Nainital for PGP students of IIM Indore

All in the month of November in consecutive years -2010, 2011 and 2012. This has become an important annual event that I enjoy and look forward to. Because Nainital is pristine, the air is charged with ozone, the birds here know how to sing and IDL is fun. It is also an opportunity to reconnect with Shri Nalin Ji and Mr. Jayanto and the wonderful, dedicated team of the Van Nivas Ashram. They amaze me with their all round proficiency, professionalism and excellence.
The program is improved each year with the experience gained and suggestions from the students. This year, the significant improvement is that on the 5th day, the students can choose from one of the three options – trek to Naina peak, Paragliding at Naukuchia Tal and trip to Mukteshwar. Paragliding is of particular interest to me personally and I have been looking forward to it since a long time.
I met Prof. Srinivas Gunta in 2010 for the first IDL and we became good friends. It was great that we were together for IDL2 also. I missed him this year but made a new friend in Prof Harshal. He almost looks like a student and his enthusiasm was contagious. He played a key role in making IDL3 successful, useful and enjoyable. He also came up with a scientific evaluation system that he meticulously implemented in arriving at the scores of the 11 teams who participated in IDL3. I  don’t know how we could have managed without him.
We were lucky that each day dawned bright, with glorious sun shine. But, most afternoons were cloudy and misty and Nainital was colder this year by 2-4 degrees C. That shifted our experience from ‘pleasant’ to ‘cold’. However, the weather was not a spoil sport for IDL and did not impact the program negatively -  except that there was no day light when we reached Tiffin Top, due to the clouds.  The students were disappointed that they could not take pictures.
We kicked off the program at 11Am on 4th November to appraise the students of the program, the daily routine, the Ashram rules and regulations etc and answered their questions. The fun part was that each team chooses a name for themselves and I am quite impressed with the creativity of the students in naming their groups. A surprise for me this year was “Harakiri” and later the group clarified that this signifies their intention to leave all negativity behind- suicide of negativity. In the afternoon, we had the first session of Good Health and Wellbeing followed by trek to Land’s End. This is a level zero trek of about 4 km round trip. Even though we started for the trek in a fog, we were lucky to see the awesome sight of a golden sun setting into a foothill of the Himalayas. The picnic spot and lake were invisible due to the fog.
The next day began at 7AM with parallel sessions of Yoga and Pranayama; which is a regular event for the reminder of the 6 day program. About half of the students do pranayama and the other half go for yoga session and they switch the next day. This is a wonderful way to start the day and it is hoped that the students could check it out and see if they would like to adopt it in their ‘Life Style’. Soon after breakfast, we scrambled off to ‘Scrambling”  in the narrow pathways and caves in the nearby hills. This is fantastic experience and the students have a first taste of overcoming fear and the exhilaration in overcoming the fears and doubts.  In the afternoon we had the second session of Good Health and Wellbeing followed by the night trek to Tiffin Top. This is a little more difficult trek, with round trip distance of 6.5 Km with some short stretches of steep slope. We go through a dense jungle and reach the Tiffin Top in twilight, just before sun set. Normally, you get a breathtaking view of the Naina lake and the town and it is great to watch the sun light fading and the electric lights popping on and gradually the scene transforms to ‘Tare Jameen Par”. We start back in the dark and take a different and safe route to walk back in the trek. It is wonderful experience to trek in the night and it is amazing that as your eyes get tuned to the darkness, you can see much better than what you think you could. We worked up a  good appetite and the Ashram team gave us a nice dinner with halwa for dessert.
The next adventure activity was bouldering and rock climbing. It gives a sense of power to climb a rock that is taller than you or for even to climb down a rock or a boulder that is bigger than you.  The outdoor adventure events are conducted by Mr. Jayanto and his team, in a very professional way with gentle encouragement and support to overcome the hesitation and sense of “can I do it?’. The students enjoyed this very much and start experiencing confidence to face challenges. The afternoon was set aside for site seeing in Nainital Town. We go downhill trekking into the market area – a nice walk of about two and a half kilometers.  While walking downhill, I was thinking about my last two trips and was mulling over the question whether I should keep coming to the same place, year after year or should decide to do something else. The must-see/ must-do list is topped by the ropeway ride and boating in the beautiful Naina Lake As I have done this a couple of times, I meandered around, taking the relatively small tourist crowd (compared to summer time), looking for a book shop to buy some books as token prizes for the two teams adjudged as the top two. I landed in the same “Modern Book Shop” that I and Srinivas went to last year but this time I had the pleasure of being assisted by Mr. Vimal Kumar, the owner of the shop. He is a man with an affable smile and lively eyes. He wanted to know why I need two sets of 10 copies of the same book. This paved the way to an unforgettable conversation that has changed my outlook. Mr. Vimal Kumar is diagnosed with a tumor and is given 6 months to live, as estimated by the doctor. He said, with his yes alive and dancing  “I am enjoying every breath I am taking and am grateful for being alive” . I read about such incidents ( and even watched Randy Pauch in his famous “Last Lecture”) but this was the first time I met someone who actually was in such a  situation and shared himself so authentically. He appeared to me to be the epitome of peace and equanimity. The simple sentence he shared with me changed my outlook. I became somehow more alert and more alive. The sounds were more vibrant and the colors were more vivid as I picked up the books and came out of the shop. The lake looked somehow more beautiful and I filled my lungs with the cool, life sustaining air. As my lungs filled up, my heart also seemed to be full of the joy of just being alive. I decided to walk back to the Ashram and it  is an unforgettable walk for me.
The seventh of November was set aside for a full day trek to Kamchi, about 18 KM from the Ashram. This is one of the best treks that I ever enjoyed and I went on many a trek not only in India but also Europe, USA and the Far East. I was certainly looking forward to it but many students were not well or not physically fit to do the whole trek. Our first stop was the Snow View Point – about 4km , mostly along the road side. and we were fortunate to have magnificent view of the magical snow peaks of the majestic Himalayas.  Fortunate because the visibility was getting poorer by the hour due to the fog. Fourteen students went back to the Ashram from this point.  The rest of the trek is pure paradise and out of this world. The scene keeps changing with every turn. You see various kinds of alpine vegetation, hills and valleys, paths and second-world-war roads, quaint villages with live stock and vegetable patches. For nearly half of the trek you can hear the music of a stream flowing by your side and the glorious site of an occasional mini-waterfall.  The songs of the birds add to the music. The vegetation is so thick in some places that you can hardly see the sun.  It is an immersive experience with the smells of the hills and the freshness of the airs filling your lungs.  You experience the beauty of the Himalayas and the wonder of the abundance in nature. I feel grateful for how blessed I am to experience this again and again.
We finish the trek at Kanchi Dham and catch a bus back to Nainital – mostly gaining altitude. Those of the students who still feel energetic go shopping or go for round 2 of sightseeing. I and Harshall went to the bookshop and bought some more books but missed meeting Mr Vimal Kumar as he was resting.
The fifth day was the day of optional programs. The choices were – Climb Naina Peak, Paragliding at Naukuchia Tal and trip to Mukteshwar for those who are unable to participate in the adventure programs. I was quite surprised that the Mukteshwar group was the largest. About 28 students ventured to climb Naina Peak and I take my hat off to them as climbing the highest peak even in a town or district fills you with a sense of accomplishment and the thrill of conquering a peak, which is indescribable but invariably exhilarating.
I opted for paragliding as it is something I have not ever done and was itching to fly like a bird. A group of 10 of us (8 men and two adventure queens) went in a Tavera and the drive was a beautiful experience. We passed by the lovely lake of Bhimtal. We had to stop near a hill and climb about 500m, a steep climb to the take off cliff. The view was fantastic from the cliff, with Naukuchital nestled in the valley formed by the mountains. I wondered how the view would be when I am gliding and was to find out soon. I was harnessed to the parachute and there was a chair like seat to ease into after takeoff. The pilot was behind me (as it is a tandem flight) and I was told to run off the edge of the cliff along with him when a signal was given. I felt a little nervous but the command to ‘run’ came quickly and within 30 seconds, I was airborne. We initially gained height and I settled down into the seat and was lost in the experience. I felt the poking of the pilot on my shoulder and he was saying “ I am trying to talk to you”. I woke up as if from a trance and asked him what was up. He asked me whether I was afraid as I was not responding to his suggestion that I can take pictures. I told him that I just want to experience the flight and forget about pictures and talking. I have no words to describe it – it was way , way beyond anything else I experienced in my life – the view, the cool breeze, the sound of silence except for  the occasional gush of wind, the incredible feeling of defying gravity and above all -the indescribable joy of it all. Soon, we started landing and I felt scared when I saw the land rushing towards me and it was over. Just about 6 minutes I was told but the time stood still for me.  I realized that I did not take a single picture and wondered how I can share some of this with my family and friends. There was a photographer and a video-grapher who captured the whole of it. Rahul was the coordinator for paragliding. His planning was perfect and his execution impeccable. He was also a good negotiator and got the pictures and videos for a reasonable price. On our way back, we passed by Sat Tal, The serenity of these lakes is unbelievable and I had a wonderful walk on the far side along with Rohit.

 The last day was the day of rappelling and river crossing, two thrilling events that everybody can do without much effort. These two events look very good, so good that family and friends think that you are a hero. What I enjoy about these events is that it gives you a thrill to go almost vertically down and go horizontal, crawling like graceful monkey.
The evenings of the last two days were also the ‘virtual’ camp fire events and the groups get an opportunity to put up a program to express themselves, entertain their friends and also give feedback on the program. The energy and creativity of the students in this surprised me in the last two IDL and I was even more surprised this year by the quality and innovations in the programs. I just loved it and the parodies were amazing. Nau Jawan was adjudged the best team, followed by Cliff Divers in the second place.
Sayan did an outstanding job as student coordinator and Prof. Srinivas brought forth a lot of proactive thinking and planning. I would not know how this program would have been but for Sayan. Krishanu worked with him during the event but Sayan gave his attention to it form August onwards,
Some of the most inspiring moments for me were provided by Paramveer, Akhil Kumar and  Mrinal Kumar. They displayed an awesome spirit of ‘never-say-die’ and brought forth such enthusiasm and displayed an awe inspiring zest for life. I wondered how Paramveer could do the treks to Land’s End, Tiffin Top, Nainital town and do paragliding which was shunned by many people as risky or difficult. He has shown me that we are unlimited – limited only by our thoughts and feelings. It was a privilege for me to meet these three musketeers and get to know them a little. Many others displayed courage and commitment that was fantastic- Mr. Karthikeyan, Ms. Sashira, Mr. Vijay, Ms. Ankita ---- to name a few.  Not a single student gave up half way through. I am reminded of the saying “Throw your hat over the fence to get to the other side”. You need courage and commitment to do that. ‘Hats off’ to every one of the students for overcoming their fears and reservations and throwing their hat to the other side and doing what it takes to go over the fence.
All in all, this was an unforgettable week for me and I look forward to IDL 4 with renewed enthusiasm – letting go of all intellectual conversations and questions and internal conversations. I look forward to breathing that ozone charged air in the verdure of the Himalayas. Meanwhile, I enjoy every breath I take and feel grateful for being alive to take that breath. I will fold-in the leanings from this program and am committed to make IDL-4 better in every way.

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