An Alert From a Random Stranger

Why is it that we almost always mistrust our fellow human beings? Isn’t trust supposed to be central to human relations of all kinds?

Here’s what happened last week.

I received a random email from an unknown person who claimed that my photographs were being used by others in social media without giving the due credit. The man, as I deciphered his gender based on the thumbnail picture in the email, also advised I start watermarking my photographs. My immediate reaction was suspicion as thoughts of phishing, social engineering, data theft, and the like hovered over my head.

After a while, I decided to write back asking how he knew those photographs were mine. He responded back stating that he had visited my blog and read my posts. Based on that, he saw someone posting photographs clicked by me as their own in Facebook. He also provided the Facebook link. And, yes, the photograph in question was indeed mine. This kind gentleman even went out of his way and confronted the plagiarist by writing a comment. The plagiarist obviously denied the same.

That a random unknown person bothered so much is a great story to tell. More so in today’s world where nobody cares or even has the time. Made me wonder if I would have done the same.

We are almost always suspicious about people’s intentions. We always question the motive of someone doing some random good to us. We find it difficult to accept that someone can do a good just like that. This becomes even more profound with strangers and our immediate reaction is mistrust. Trust is one of the cornerstones of human connections, governing all interactions we have with each other. Yet, mistrust rules the world.

Our basic personalities may also have a role to play in how much we trust or mistrust. Some people can trust others easily while some are more cynical. By and large, I belong to the former category. While that has landed me in many a trouble, I do have several wonderful trust stories to tell. There’s no denying of the terrible things that happen around us, which only breed mistrust. As a result, instinctively we may have become more suspicious than ever. Is that a very good thing to happen to human kind? I can’t tell. Maybe not. Maybe we need to have the right balance. My experience says – when in doubt, trust your gut.

Well, trust needs to be earned and the least we can do is be trustworthy. Afterall, we can control our own selves, our own actions, and our own thoughts. We have no control over what others think, say, or do.

And, follow Shakespeare’s advice – Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

Amar – Our Little Genie From Nepal

It was nearly dinner time and we were all set to hit the streets once again. We couldn’t wait to explore all the restaurants and cafes that we had seen earlier. If you have been to Pokhara, in Nepal, you will know exactly what I mean. As we stepped out of our room, I heard my sister say, “I miss Amar!”. Amar had dropped us at Pokhara that afternoon and left for Kathmandu. We had really gotten used to Amar and this statement was repeated multiple times in overt and covert ways over the next 2-3 days, till we left Nepal.

Missing Amar happened out of blue this morning, once again. We wondered if all was okay with him and his family during this global Covid 19 pandemic. We googled to find out how Nepal was coping with the pandemic. Amar’s phone didn’t connect. So, we left a message in his boss’ mobile, who got back letting us know all was good and Amar had left for his village before the outbreak.

Amar Gurung was our trek guide, who guided our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek last year in October.

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Pic 1: A selfie somewhere on the way.

ABC Trek has a well-marked trail and the risks of losing your way or getting stranded somewhere with no help is minimal. The tea houses along the way make it even easier as you don’t need to put up in tents. This trek can be easily done by yourself and you don’t need a guide. Also, trekking in Nepal is very organized and the experience is very different from treks in India.

However, I chose to go with a guide for two primary reasons – First and foremost having a local guide means you are exposed to the local culture through fascinating stories and folklore, which you otherwise never get to know. Second, is related to logistics as the guide helps carry the backpack and you can trek with a smaller day bag; takes care of tea house bookings, which can be tough during peak seasons. Also, it’s a way of contributing to the local economy.

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Pic 2: Somewhere in the lush green forests on the way.

There are numerous trekking agencies in Nepal and selecting the right one can be quite a task. I decided to go with Nepal Alternative Treks & Expeditions (P.)Ltd, a trekking agency recommended by fellow blogger, Indranil Chatterjee – do check out his blog Break Shackles. In fact, I did no research and did not even try to look for other options. The reason being, Indranil had trekked ABC the year before along with his 8-year old daughter. His posts fascinated me as trekking with your child in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Hence, I looked no further. My job became easier.

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Pic 3: Posing with the the graceful, majestic, and divine Annapurna range.

Through Indranil, I connected with Tej Bahadur and planned my trip. When Tej introduced us to Amar in Kathmandu, we were pleasantly surprised as he looked too polished to be a trek leader. His attire and appearance gave the impression of a regular office-goer than a trek guide. Well, looks can be deceiving and that’s what was happening. Amar was like our little genie, taking care of us and always fulfilling our wishes and desires. Amar’s unparallel hospitality often left us feeling uncomfortable, we aren’t always used to someone being at our disposal. At every step he treated us like his personal guests.

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Pic 4: A tea break somewhere along the way.

A perfect gentleman, Amar holds a Post Graduate degree in Mathematics from Kathmandu University. He was planning to start working on his PhD soon. That first appearance wasn’t all that deceiving, you see! Amar belongs to the mountains and trekking runs in his genes. It was because of Amar that our ABC Trek experience became so much more enriched and memorable.

And, it is because of Amar that if/when I go trekking in Nepal again, it will be through Nepal Alternative Treks & Expeditions (P.)Ltd.

The Unassuming Ultra Marathoners

Meet the Uber Cool Duo from Meghalaya

He was running up along the narrow-tarred road strewn with fallen brown leaves. Nobody is supposed to take that path, which runs uphill flanked by forests on both sides. A locked gate at the entrance of the path with a notice clearly states it is Defence Land and entry is prohibited. My cousin and I cast a glance at each other realizing that we had a partner in crime here. All this while we thought we were the only adventurous ones violating rules on a cloudy Saturday morning. The sight of a man running up that path in a blue jersey sharply contrasting with the surrounding greenery was however splendid. “Wish I could shoot a video!” I exclaimed. “Go ahead,” said my cousin. “Oh! I can’t do that without seeking permission.” I retorted.

It was just another day in Shillong and I was out on my usual morning walks with my cousin. On this day, we could not control our urge to walk the narrow-paved road that ran uphill through the jungle. The fact that entry to the road was prohibited had always intrigued us. With heavy rains the day before, the pathway was wet and almost completely carpeted by brown leaves, only alluring us even more. When we saw a small opening in the fence on one side of the locked iron gate, we just had to crawl right in. It was bliss as there was nobody other than the two of us. Not until we sighted our runner.

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The forbidden pathway strewn with fallen leaves

As the runner reached the top, he paused to drink water and that was my opportunity for introducing myself and seeking permission for shooting a video. It turned out that he was an ultra marathoner and his name was Banajit. I was mighty impressed to know that he had several famous marathons under his belt, including the world’s highest ultra marathon – the 72 Km. Khardungla Challenge. Also known as Ladakh Marathon, it is one of the toughest marathons that tests the limits of human endurance.

It was an astonishing moment for me as I never knew that we had such accomplished runners in Shillong. I got introduced to marathons in Bangalore and somehow never connected it with Shillong even though I was aware of the Sohra Marathon, an annual event held in Meghalaya.

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Meeting Banajit on that cloudy Saturday morning

Describing himself as an ordinary runner, Banajit appeared completely oblivious of his incredible achievements. His passion for running was anybody’s guess as he casually talked about his running experiences. Banajit’s humility stood out and I found myself wondering what a lucky day it was to just randomly meet someone like this. We talked for a while and exchanged phone numbers. I shot a video with my phone and we went our way.

During the course of our interactions, Banajit mentioned about a fellow runner from Meghalaya, called Asif, who had also run the Khardungla Challenge. Asif stays in Bangalore and Banajit insisted I connect with Asif when in Bangalore. I did not pay any heed to it as I knew once in Bangalore none of that will happen. There’s no time, you see!

Afterward, Banajit shared Asif’s blog post on his Khardungla Challenge with me. It was a fascinating read and I had left behind a comment. That was way back in the month of May and I had forgotten about it altogether. Sometime towards the end of July, I received a message in Instagram from Asif thanking me for reading his post. Asif visited my blog and found me in Instagram. Our common Shillong upbringing resulted in an instant connect.

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Rendezvous with Asif over a cup of coffee

Subsequently, one fine morning Asif and I, along with another friend, met up over a cup of coffee in Bangalore. It was an instant connect like we’ve known each other for a very long time. Not surprising, that’s how it is when you meet someone from your hometown in another city. The genuineness and warmth of Asif’s personality touched my heart. His modesty and humility matched perfectly with that of his friend, Banajit. Besides his IT job here in Bangalore, Asif coaches aspiring long distance runners. Every weekend he himself runs 30-35 Km or more. He talks about these long-distance weekend runs so casually that it just leaves you wondering – where does he get the motivation to do this every single weekend and that too after having a fulltime demanding corporate job.

I wish I could be an Asif or a Banajit, but that’s wishful thinking, maybe for another life.

My meeting and connecting with Asif and Banajit seems like an act of providence. I feel totally blessed to have connected with such inspirational people. Asif and Banajit belong to that group of people who are high achievers, in their own right. Yet nobody knows them and not like they care.

People like Asif and Banajit are stories to be told. Do visit the links below to read their experiences of the tough Khardungla Challenge.

Asif Ahmed: 
http://asiforyou.blogspot.com/2017/09/my-tryst-with-khardungla-challenge-2017.html

Banajit Barman:
http://theshillongtimes.com/2018/11/11/local-runners-need-recognition/