Bottle bricks and five life lessons learned while trekking in the Himalayas

What do you expect from a 12 year old with starry eyes who had just been suggested by his mother to do the Roopkund Trek? Excitement for sure about the prospect of vacation, but nothing more. However, doubt, fear and threats from family members gave way and the hike remained in the registration phase on Indiahikes website.

Soon the Roopkund hike became folklore as hiking was no longer allowed on this route. Indiahikes had to stop this super-super-popular hike.

In order not to be put off, a year later I tried my first hike with IH on the Deoriatal-Chandrashila route and then there was no looking back. It was like an addiction. All year long I read and dreamed about Himalayan treks. I’ve prepared to hike in May – that’s the only time the school gives us a month of vacation.

Pick garbage from the path in EcoBag. Little practices that taught great life lessons. Photo by Richik Pal

I’m not going to talk about how great the hikes are. Stories like this are in gallons all over the world.

I will tell you how these walks have changed me as a person

During the hike, I learned five different lessons that will stay with me for a lifetime.

With Arjun Sir and Sandhya Ma’am on the Har Ki Dun-Ruinsara Valley Trek. Photo by Richik Pal

Lesson 1: learn to carry your own luggage

I had unloaded my backpack during Deoriatal-Chandrashila, my first hike. But towards the end of the hike, our guide Sunil Bhaiya felt ashamed that I had unloaded my bag when he pointed to the mule that was carrying it. From this, of course, the next lesson follows.

Lesson 2: Wear Exactly What You Need

You feel every ounce of extra burden, be it a pair of t-shirts or socks, as you climb the steep slopes. This minimalistic habit stayed with me for all other vacations.

Lesson 3: don’t waste food

When I saw the mules carrying sacks of flour and vegetables to the campsites, the kitchen staff preparing hot food in freezing temperatures, and carrying water drums from the nearest water source (even if it’s a few miles down the slope), I gave the third lesson. We were encouraged to eat our fill but not to waste, and I wholeheartedly agreed.

Lesson 4: don’t dig the ground too deep

We were the first to drive to Lake Ruinsara via Har-ki-Dun in 2019 and had met both Arjun and Sandhya, who documented the route. We had to dig the uneven ground in Untigad to set up camp. This is where I learned my fourth lesson – not to dig too deep. Deep digging disturbs the soil of the place.

While decamping, we stamped the soil back, including the stones we had displaced, which was the least disturbing to the natural surroundings.

Lesson 5: Selflessness

That was the best lesson. For the first time, I did something for the environment – I picked up rubbish that was thrown away by people on the way, mostly plastic packaging, and put it in bottles to make bottle stones.

Bottle stones can be used for many functional and decorative purposes. Photo by Richik Pal

I thought, why not take this idea as a souvenir from the mountains to Mumbai – where do I live? Well, with my headmaster’s encouragement, I started the ride at my school and the rest is history.

Bottlebricking in Mumbai

Today Mumbai thinks twice before throwing that piece of plastic outside the door thanks to the BottleBricking initiative. It has been picked up by various organizations including the Swedish Academy, UNICEF, city schools and suburban communities, especially housing associations.

Building a community of Bottle Brickers in Mumbai. Photo by Richik Pal

Although this is the fifth lesson, it is the most powerful. Not only did it make me a crusader against plastic pollution, it also influenced my friends. You were with me on this project.

I recently spoke to Karan, a team member who is no longer at my school. He said: “Richik, mujhse Plastik Pheka Nehi Jata (I can no longer throw plastic).” That line hit me like lightning. This is the power of selfless work that Indiahikes has rooted in me.

Instead of throwing plastic away, stuff it into plastic bottles and use it as a support. Photo by Richik Pal

I hope that with my work I can bring about such positive behavioral changes in people and make each of us responsible for our plastic waste.

As I prepare to volunteer for Green Trails on my next trek in Buran Ghati, I am a bundle of nerves pondering the responsibilities I will bear of whether I will live up to the role that I always have have dreamed.

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