“All the treks we had embarked on until then, were day treks and we were now ready to push our boundaries further.”
The second part of Sheena and Kiran’s journey talks about their most challenging trek yet, kayaking, scuba diving and much more about the two explorers.
*If you missed the first part of this story, click here.
Before we proceed, let’s understand what is the famous Everest Base Camp trek.
“It is a trek from the foothills to the base camp of Everest. It sits at a height of 17600 feet. It’s a significant point as summiteers get to the base camp before scaling higher. We had been planning this trek for quite some time, so last year we decided to attempt it.”
“The Himalayas are a mystery, and every new step has a surprise in store for you.“
The non-motorable trail takes eight days to reach the base camp and four days to return to Lukla – the point where you begin and end your trek.
Sheena – On those days, you’ll battle weather conditions, extreme altitudes, difficult living conditions, limited choice of food and accessibility to comforts we usually take for granted back home.
They started with a short flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. “Day one saw us energized and very excited. We were walking faster, eating our scrumptious snacks as we could still taste the food and chatted with each other as we walked up the trail.”
“Day 2 began and we realized that day 1 was just the warm-up because it got more and more challenging. 8-10 hours of trek each day with a few mandatory acclimatization exercises in between brought us to the moment we reached base camp.”
One can understand that the couple was exhausted and the high altitude made their movement even more challenging. They say, “you just want to walk and focus on getting to the next stop. The views kept changing and kept us alert as we trekked up and down each day.”
Kiran – It was beautiful and I couldn’t help being a trigger-happy photographer. I kept my three-kilo camera on me along with my heavy day pack and trekking gear throughout the journey because I didn’t want to miss anything. It’s difficult to explain what it felt like doing this trek. We got only photographs and video to give one a glimpse of the journey. We kept running out of battery during the 14-day trek, and getting to charge your devices isn’t the easiest thing; actually impossible for some of my equipment. In such situations, I ensured I clicked photographs on my phone and some of the craziest moments on this trek were shot on my phone.
“The moment we reached the base camp was exhilarating. It was a really long day of trekking, and as we got closer to the base camp the highest point in this journey, we were hit by a blizzard.”
“This shortened our rest stop at the base camp and we had to get back to the safety of our night stop before the lights went down.”
Sheena – It was the most exciting experience though, I had tears in my eyes as we touched the marking at the base camp. You realize you are stronger than you think and that all the hardships of the previous days led you to this magical moment.
The trekkers had to take a lot of precautionary measures in this climb courtesy of the extreme weather and the difficult terrain.
Kiran – There are plenty of slippery paths and steep drops and you cannot take your eyes off the path for a moment unless you stop moving. We had to be careful with our water, food, gear and footwear, and most importantly stay aware on the trail.
This journey had some ‘crazy’ moments too.
“We spent four months training, and readying our bodies and mind to embark on this journey, and in March – April this year we made that dream come true.”
Sheena – While I concentrated on cardiovascular and endurance, Kiran focused on strength and agility. We both understood our body’s needs and took different fitness programs to help us get to a point of confidence that we can do this and succeed.
Adventures like these don’t just test your physical strength, the real test is in our minds.
“There will be many times on the trail, your body will give up. You will feel like you cannot take another step forward. You won’t be able to do so much as drag your feet with the pain.“
“Your appetite is low at those altitudes, but you need to nourish your body or your oxygen levels drop.”
Sheena – We kept telling ourselves ‘every step is a blessing’. We helped each other overcome those weak moments, we let our strengths drive us too, as trekking under these conditions requires you to be independent. So, mentally we tried to relax, calm the fears and push ourselves each day.
“Missing home, family and comforts that one is used to make it tough too. Limited connectivity made it difficult to make calls or stay connected daily, so that you couldn’t pick up the phone when you wanted to talk to someone back home was tough.”
Fourteen days may not seem like much if you are just counting blocks on a calendar, but out on a trek, especially at that height, avoiding monotony is another exercise.
“Ours was a small team of only three, but the best thing about trekking is meeting other like-minded people along the trail.”
Sheena – We made friends for life and I mean it, really special people that made our journey memorable.
“The only monotonous thing is walking, but the view keeps changing. Over the fourteen days, we saw tree lines to no trees, bridges and rivers, villages, steep passes, snow-covered paths, glaciers and so much more. The view never got boring and was very engaging.”
“Kayaking is a fun way to explore the waters and the scenery around you above the surface of the water. While one can get on a boat and do the same, kayaking adds a physicality to the touring and gives you the flexibility of moving around at your own leisure.”
“We love the Maldives and its gorgeous waters. It’s bliss, whether you want to scuba dive, swim the ocean, snorkel or cruise in a boat or yacht but kayaking there is also very fun.” “The water was so clear that you can peek in and be rewarded with some marine life, little school of fish and corals in the more shallow ends.”
While the Maldives offered them clear open waters to kayak on, Vietnam’s waters showed them emerald waters, towering limestone structures on islands that were covered by the rainforest, caves and so much more.
“We always wanted to visit Vietnam. There’s so much to see there, and we chose a cruise in Halong Bay as it was one of the things we definitely wanted to tick off our travel list. And kayaking around there is truly a great way to absorb the real beauty of the place.”
The two even managed to explore the streets of Hanoi and experience the culture and delicious cuisine.
Sheena – The food was amazing. We had our palate do a happy dance with everything we tried. The egg coffee was delicious. I enjoyed its decadence but Kiran didn’t like the idea of raw egg in coffee. It’s a delicious creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam is perched on dense Vietnamese coffee.
“The Bia Hoi street is famous for old architecture, untouched and locals gather in the evenings to socialize. It was the most fun street pub hopping and food indulgence.”
Sheena – We tried different dishes from the local cuisine. I loved the baked oysters in different Vietnamese sauces.”
They are PADI certified divers. He’s a PADI rescue diver and she is a PADI advanced open water diver. Here’s how they do it –
Sheena – So, typically depending on where we dive, we start early (unless it’s a night dive).
We gear up, get on a boat that takes us to the spot we are diving at. We usually prefer boat diving over shore diving. Once the boat is anchored, we dive in. Kiran is my dive buddy. We go in and dive around till our tanks have enough oxygen. Once we reach the limit, we slowly surface making necessary safety stops depending on how deep we ventured. With our certifications, we can dive up to 30 meters or 98.4 feet.
Kiran – I love the entire experience of diving. Suiting up, breathing underwater, the zero gravity feeling and observing sea life like small fishes, Lionfish, Triggerfish, Stonefish and Barracudas. They move in the water with discipline I’m yet to see on roads anywhere.
If you aren’t a certified diver, you can only dive up to 12 meters or 40 feet. “Now that limits dive spots and how deep you can go. So we took a certification course at PADI schools that improve your skills, teach dive techniques and you have to clear the tests to move to the next level.”
Kiran – It’s reflective of your skill in the sport. The common knowledge is the more you learn and certify, the better scuba diver you can become. And certified advanced open water divers and above can dive to the 30 meters or 98.4 feet which is the deepest allowed for recreational diving.”
They say, “Some dives you’ll get to see plenty fish, sometimes you’ll luck out and see some reef or tiger sharks, Manta Rays, Sting Rays, turtles, moral eels, groupers, squids and much more. It all depends where you are diving.”
There are day dives and then there are night dives, “There’s almost no light at the surface, so we carry a torch. At night, the corals are more colourful and while it’s eerie, it’s a whole new level of adrenaline rush.”
“Shot in the Maldives, it was a dive at the Kudagiri wreck. It was an amazing experience. Just the two of us and our dive guide with our torches. The wreck starts at 25 meters and is seated at 40 meters in the ocean bed. The corals look more colourful at night and the marine life is mesmerising.”
This image was captured in Seychelles, “great visibility and rich marine life. This was shot at possibly at 20 meters beneath the surface.”
Kiran’s passion for capturing his experiences is clearly visible in his work. Most of us may have some clue about photography on different landscapes, but how does he do it underwater?
Kiran – I use different equipment to shoot underwater depending on where we are diving and what I have handy. Shooting underwater is a little different as the colours look different and as true ambassadors of the ocean, we try not to get too close to big marine life or touch the corals.
I just use the camera as I would above the surface but click pictures or shoot videos when I can. I love to record the experiences but sometimes I just turn it off so I can experience the water without any distractions. I get that the images shared with you of our scuba diving experiences is limited. The reason for that is I’m usually shooting videos and rarely switch to take photographs.
He adds, “The camera is always with me, so when we travel, anything that captures my attention- could be someplace we are passing through, some sights we consciously go to see, food, scenery or just street candids. I do not plan it, it’s as spontaneous as what I’m actually seeing with my eyes. Anything that intrigues me gets me trigger happy.
What kind of photography does he prefer? The one has does as a professional or the kind he indulges in during his travels?
Kiran – It’s non comparable honestly. Both need a certain kind of skill and focus. At work, yes the pressure to not miss a shot or moment is high so you are always on your toes, but when I am traveling, I have the luxury to look around and photograph at my whim and fancy. What I shoot when I travel is pretty much something that is a part of my memory. Professionally I create memories for my clients, travelling I create memories for us.
Of all the adventures they have indulged in, “some required training or readiness while others required guts or confidence to make and attempt. Scuba diving and trekking at high altitudes are the two things we’d call extreme sports that require some preparation or discipline. Both need a certain amount of fitness of course, and healthier you are, better you can enjoy the experience.”
“You can always dive without a certification to a limited depth of 12 meters and see how the experience feels before you take the plunge to get certified, as it sure does involve investment of time, patience, disciple to learn something new, responsibility as you indulge in an experience as exciting as this and of course, money. But if the water excites you, if the ocean is where you feel at home then certifying will only open up more of the world for you to see. After all, 71% of our planet is water.”
Sheena – I’ve seen that after the first experience, people usually fall in 3 buckets- hate it, love it but not sure if I’d do it again and love it and cannot wait to dive again.
Most of the times, the two pick their next destinations by finding out different dive spots, “70% of the time we are looking at dive spots. Remainder times it could be a specific trek like in Nepal or Bhutan and some other times it’s about different cultures, such as, Cambodia with its UNESCO sites. We are genuinely intrigued by different UNESCO protected sites around the world.”
Different dive spots offer different experiences. “Visibility is the main thing. The Maldives had the best at 30-40 meters visibility, while the average for the other dive sites or locations were 15-20 meters. Currents were stronger in some spots compared others, for example, Sri Lanka and Koh Phi Phi had stronger currents than the others.”
Sheena – My most exciting experience was this dive in Koh Tao when I had a nurse shark come close to me, look around and swim away. I was lagging behind the others, soaking in the beauty around and this big, but cute shark came by to say hello. I also remember a huge turtle that was swimming with us almost through half our dive once. But my favorite thing to see are the Manta or Sting Rays, they, for me, are gorgeous birds of the ocean. No marine life is dangerous, it’s ignorance and popular commercial blockbusters that design this sense of fear in people. Yes, we are entering their habitat so we must be respectful. Keep a good distance, not touch anything and no stepping on or destroying the marine life that is key to the ocean’s survival.
Now that we got a slight glimpse into their exciting world, let’s understand the nature of their relationship. The two started all of this after they got married.
In India, for a long time, the convention of marriage meant settling down. Finding the right partner and starting a family. If we follow that train of thought, we may think that Sheena and Kiran haven’t settled down even after their marriage. But what if they have?
What if they have settled in a life that gives them the freedom to go wherever they want to go, together? Maybe the two know the true meaning of this sacred concept. Finding your passions and sharing each precious moment of joy with your partner.
Kiran – We live each day with utmost excitement and curiosity. We have our priorities set right, we are big planners and know what we want out of life and we didn’t really find a common interest but we found each other and that was an adventure on its own. Life is all about living, people often get bogged down by what is expected of them by the society but here we are two souls chasing everything and anything that keeps them happy.
Sheena – This is just one life to live. I have no qualms on adhering to the standard template of societal norms. If it was agreeable I would, I have no reservations, but more important for me is ‘living’ each day and making ourselves matter. I have a companion in Kiran and I’m quenching my curiosity of this world with him… Learning each step of the way and creating memories that could fill our lives with magic.
Kiran – We make it work. We talk about what each of us want to do, we design a plan that caters to both our interests. We are very vocal, and say it as it is, we call out the concerns or address possible challenges so there is almost limited drama and we can make our time together worth it. We positively focus on the good things and not waste time on petty altercations. Talking and being honest to each other and respectful of our differences is key.
Sheena – Learning is an ongoing process. Travelling together, going on adventures or simply lazing around – every moment presents an opportunity to learn and grow individually and as partners. Self respect, mutual admiration and sincere love is what truly matters at the end of the day.
Kiran – Let us be honest, we are different in many ways. She loves a good book as we laze on the beach and you won’t catch me with one. I love to click a photo of my sumptuous looking dish when we travel and she cannot wait to dig in, she is not afraid to speak publicly anytime, but that’s not my cup of tea. I enjoy long workouts but she can get bored. She’s more sensitive while I could be more rational, whereas I can sometimes be a skeptic while she is fearless.
We are different, but the one thing that is same is we enjoy each other’s company, we talk about various topics, debate and explore fun things to do together, and new memories to make.
Sheena – Oh yes! another difference, he’s funny, big sense of humor and is the clown in our friend circle while I suck at being so animated. Also while planning, we are both systematic but we delegate responsibility, he’ll plan the general itinerary and budget, while I research and plan the activities we could indulge in.