“Wo Kaagaz ki Kashti” – Samiir Halady and Shyam – young lads in their early 20’s, stood at the Karjat bus stand late at night planning their next adventure – carefree youth making the most of a weekend. At 6:00 AM, they found themselves in Talavli attempting to hike up fort Manikgad.
Trekking is a fairly common activity in Maharashtra, where the Sahyadri mountain range beckons. With no maps, food or clear path, they sought out a cowherd as their guide. A thrilling trek through dense undergrowth, slippery grass and a completely untrodden path – probably only used by animals, brought them to a stunning view and an old dilapidated temple. Famished and tired, they returned high on the thrill of trekking. A weekend well-spent.
Life seemed all set for Samiir Halady. Trekking had been a passion for him as he actively participated in the Wilson College’s Nature Club and hiked consistently. After an MBA, he landed a job as key account manager for a leading packaging company, and the means to fulfil his other love – travelling. Fun-loving and social that he was, he quickly had a group of colleagues joining him in his love for trekking. Life looked set.
Destiny Makes its Move
One fine day in 2001, Samiir Halady had a small injury resulting in a swollen thumb that refused to subside. A visit to the family physician showed very high levels of blood pressure. Presuming it to be stress-related, he was advised rest and prescribed a few tests. The tests showed extremely high levels of creatinine signalling a problem with his kidneys. A biopsy revealed a serious kidney malfunction called MPGN ((Membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis). His kidneys were on the verge of collapsing and were functioning only marginally. The doctor’s verdict – Dialysis, strict diet and a restriction on trekking. A hand had been dealt. It was now Samiir’s turn to play. He was 28.
Changes were in order. He was no longer considered suitable for the tough sales job and switched to his own agency. He sought relief at Anand Ashram and was introduced to naturopathy. Friends moved on with their lives while Samiir Halady entered the world of dialysis patients. In dialysis, blood is drawn out from the patient, filtered and re-injected post balancing the electrolytes and removing the excess fluids. Samiir Halady had to undergo dialysis twice a week. During dialysis, the patient can suffer cramps and significant fluctuations in the blood pressure. Away from dialysis, there are challenges of lowered blood and calcium count. The result – fatigue, breathlessness, blackouts, reduced ability for action-oriented activities and complications in any kind of healing. Then there are the prohibitive costs and risks of infection. Statistically, life expectancy on dialysis is considered around 20 years, but in India that is very rare. Dialysis leaves most patients extremely fatigued and debilitated and necessitates rest periods, and post that it severely restricts normal life.
“First Love’s Call”
Samiir Halady had a decision to make. “Why me?” wasn’t his way. “I choose to live to the fullest” he decided. “I am a bit crazy” he added with a smile. Since his dialysis started, he’s made it a point to schedule it at night so as to not impact his work schedule. So, his dialysis treatments would end in the early hours of the morning, affecting his sleep time. But this still meant he could recover and reach work like a normal person. Slowly, he familiarized himself with the new routine – dialysis, rest periods, diet and followed his doctor’s advice to the T. He completely stopped trekking from 2001 – 2005. By this time, he had also discovered a new passion, Digital Marketing which he decided to choose as a profession.
Gregarious, positive and fun, with a penchant for PJs – friends gathered around Samiir again. He’d always loved the Mumbai monsoons. One fine day, friends sat lounging about, sipping garam chai (hot tea) and watching the rains. The monsoon always meant hiking for Samiir. The lush green landscape, the flowing rivulets, the fog – nature in all its glory. As he sat reminiscing, his friends made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to Tungareshwar. It was a nice walk and not really a hike. Samiir’s stirrings returned. He called his mother, who with complete faith said, “If you’re up to it, go for it.” After several years, he was back to nature – walking and soaking it in. The spark had been lit.
Once back, Samiir realized how much he’d missed trekking and how much more alive it made him feel. This was life, this was how he wanted to live. He informed his doctor that he’d be back to hiking. His first love beckoned.
What draws me to trekking? – “My love for nature,” Samiir responds. “It’s never been about the heights I have conquered. I do not know the names of the plants that I encounter in the wilderness. But I love being connected with them. Nature stuns me into a state of nothingness and lets me experience sublime joy.”
In 2008, he attempted Bhimashanker – a true hike that would test his endurance. Filled with doubt, he set off with a close group of friends. Bit by bit, step by step, he completed the tough journey after a long 7 hours. Once there, he felt something set free. He’d done it. He shouted out loud with joy and celebrated his returned confidence. He was truly and completely back. There was no looking back now, the hundreds of forts and peaks spread across the Sahyadri range in Maharashtra were calling. Lohagad, Sudhagad, Karnala, Korigad, Tung, Naneghat, Sagargad, Kotligad, Harishchandragad, Rajmachi, Kodana… the list is long, one by they were conquered.
Trekking, post the kidney failure, required a different mind-set. Patients on dialysis have to maintain their fluid levels and avoid over-hydration. Sodium levels fluctuate. Samiir had to pay attention to his body – be very aware of every change. With careful study, he reached the exact sodium levels to be maintained for each particular weather condition. He now always travelled with tang, salt and sugar to rehydrate himself at regular intervals. Friends accompanying him were informed of what needed to be provided to him and when. He focused on the journey and listened to his body. There were times when he didn’t complete the trek and turned back. Sometimes, post-dialysis, he ended up hiking, and other times, he set off right after the treatment. He had had close calls during the treks. On a hike to Naneghat, his blood pressure went extremely low and he almost collapsed. Recognizing his state, he lay down on the ground, his friends fed him a little salt, he allowed himself some time to recover and he trudged on.
“A Caravan Forms”
As he continued trekking, he founded the group “V Hikerz” in Mumbai in 2008 with a few friends. Today, it has around 930 members, a dedicated website and a team of 7-8 folks managing it. The group is extremely active and conducts at least 2 treks a month. They’ve a planned schedule, a closed membership, permitted only through referrals and have strict rules such as no littering, no loud noises and no alcohol. The treks are not strictly time-bound. When something arrests their attention, they pause, enjoy the beauty and then move on. “If you want to just exert yourself, climb the stairs. If you’ve come to the mountains, then it’s about the journey.” Taking this one step further, Samiir introduced kid treks. Recently, on Children’s day, they organized a camping trip for kids with the youngest being just 1 year old. “Kids need to see this life beyond the urban life. Ask yourself, have your kids picked up a dew drop at dawn and wondered how it came there?” says Samiir.
Many members of the group are photographers too. Samiir himself is an avid photographer. He’s been using the camera since his 20’s, but it was only in 2012 that he purchased a DSLR. He also went in for a professional course to get the theory right. Since then he has been experimenting with various techniques. “I love the idea of capturing an image for posterity,” says Samiir.
“New Challenges, New Steps”
While work, trekking and his treatments fill his life, loneliness can’t be kept away. Fully aware of his condition, he maturely decided to stay away from marriage. “That would be unfair to my partner.” With the pain racking his body, the dark moments and the quench for comfort, Samiir knew he’d need to find a way to vent and reflect. This brought him to blogging. In 2007, he started blogging about his struggles and adventures with great honesty and simplicity at adventuretourist.blogspot.in . The blog drew readers across the world and brought solace to many – so much so that the UK kidney Research Foundation recommended it for other kidney patients.
Through his blog, he recounts everyday challenges and manages to bring out refreshing insights while avoiding bitterness. What we’d call life’s unfairness, Samiir takes it in his stride. Reaching near collapse when using public transport post dialysis, he wonders, “Why don’t we have reserved seating for people with serious ailments.” When relations and friendships hurt, he chooses to not lay conditions to his happiness. “I may be lonely but not miserable. I am happy, unconditionally.” He truthfully acknowledges the fear that grips his heart when fellow patients with kidney failure succumb to the disease and he is filled with a renewed effort to pull himself out from the rut and resume stoically with a “Life must go on”. During dialysis, he ends up facing near-death experiences – blackouts, gasping for breath and struggling for life. He returns home and continues living. It’s not just the adventures of dialysis that plague him. In 2012, he was detected with Plantar Fasciitis that causes tremendous pain in the heel. Tail bone dislocation in 2013, Vascular Calcification (deposition of calcium on muscles and bones) in 2014, a knee injury in 2015 – these painful ailments sap his energy and force him off his feet. Unable to take analgesics due to his condition, he hobbles through the pain. But with sheer grit, he manages to emerge from each setback and limps back to trekking. How does he find the strength to do it? “Instead of avoiding it, I immerse myself in the pain completely and experience it. Once it passes, it becomes a memory and I can move on,” explains Samiir. “We always talk about the glass half-full or half-empty. For patients, it’s different. You can’t be half-alive or half-dead. So if you’re alive, be fully alive – KINGSIZE.” His 14-year journey with dialysis bears a proud testimony to this bravery.
Currently, a hamstring injury has taken him off trekking. “Frankly, I don’t know whether I will be able to go into the mountains again. But then, I keep doing the exercises. It’s just a matter of not letting go.” Samiir is currently focusing his energies on another dream project called “Mitti Ki Khusboo” – an attempt to take city folks back to the rural areas and is travelling, looking for sites. “Since I can’t hike, I choose to drive to nature.”
Working as a freelance consultant, blogging, trekking and photography – how does he balance it all? Samiir answers simply, “Work is my passion. I’ve never let it suffer. And my trekking weekends actually fuel my work, filling me with creative energy.” On his blog, he writes, “Success once used to mean doing well in your job, progressing fast. Today, along with my job and other problems, I am doing something that means a lot to me. Success lies in doing something that is truly meaningful. Isn’t life all about planning and pacing ourselves to be able to keep running until the end…….?”.
Can’t get enough of inspiring trekkers? Why not also read The Mountains Are Calling – Prof. Amitava Chattopadhyay , or our guest bloggers experience on his first trek: I so wanted to Quit my First Trek – But I kept on Walking .
(Cover Photo credit – Kirti Sawant )