Old is bold

The thrill of adrenalin-pumping adventure is not just for the young, but also the old who’re youthful in spirit. These senior adventure lovers may be late starters but it’s better late than never, writes Mehak Uppal

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THERE is a magic that creeps into our lives, unannounced, when we discover the fun activities that bring unbridled joy and thrill, especially at an age and stage when one is thought to be beyond the call of the wild.

It must be because of this experience or exhilaration that people aged 50 and above get hooked on to adventure. Pardeep Gupta, a 58-year-old businessman, is busy getting all his documentation in order these days. There are so many clearances to be taken and licences to apply to the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India. Simultaneously, he is seeking guidance from people around to overhaul his Grand Vitara and introduce some modifications.

All this activity has been to participate in the Mughal Road Motor Rally in Srinagar this month-end. The preparations started a month back as he discussed detailed plans with his friend. This trip is special, as Gupta’s 18-year-old son Anmol Ratn is accompanying him, before leaving to pursue his higher studies abroad. “We need to go rallying together dad, at least once!” his son had been telling him since long.

Car rallying had always attracted Gupta but he felt bound by family obligations and professional commitments. Then one day, he decided to take part in a St John’s Old Boys Association (SJOBA) rally, a small platform to test the waters. And, as they say, after that he never looked back. From then on, life took on another meaning as he ensured his participation in at least one rally every year.

“It is something I had always wanted to do. It had been all around me in the form of newspaper stories and television shows,” shares this member of Old Monk, the name of their group of adventure lovers, derived from their favourite drink. “This name quite suits our team in more ways than one,” he smiles.

There is bound to be hesitation about taking those wobbly baby steps into adrenalin-pumping adventure at a ripe age. There is likely to be some inhibition about venturing out of the comfort zone. “I found it a little awkward to go trekking for the first time because of the age disparity with others in the group. But everyone around was so supportive and made me feel at home. It ensured that that the self-consciousness lasted only the first time,” explains K.J.S. Chatrath, a 68-year-old retired IAS officer who has trekked to the Yamunotri, Gomukh and Pandori glaciers, among other places.

An avid traveller, he has journeyed to a place where human habitation ends and witnessed the midnight sun at the Arctic Circle. He has also touched the other end of the earth, the Antarctic Circle. It is the fascination of exploring a place and stories that come along with each one of them that touches something inside him. One can make that out as he talks fondly of the thrill of being on the same land that Charles Darwin visited on one of his expeditions.

“It gives you a chance to communicate with people you would have otherwise never talked to. Apart from exposing you to different styles of thinking, the travel also proves to be a great lesson in geography and history.”

In fact, it’s the “newness” factor that seems to be casting a spell to ensure that many senior citizens stay charmed. “With a new place comes a new culture, traditions and values. It is intriguing to discover places, which are almost a century behind us in terms of development. Their lifestyles in themselves are so thought provoking,” says 71-year-old Suresh Mohan Uppal, a retired Class 1 officer from the Punjab and Haryana High Court, who has been on bike/scooter expeditions to destinations like Marsimik La, situated at a height of more than 18,000 feet near the China border.

“I visited a place in Himachal Pradesh where no one ever visits a hospital. Local doctors give credit for this to the clean environment around!”

His eyes confirm the grit and determination that his stout back and long moustaches bear testimony to. “This is not for the faint hearted. I have retired from work, not from life.” His daughter nods in agreement and tells us stories about how her fatherattitude ensures that he still shoulders household responsibilities.

It seems to be a chain reaction: the youthful spirit of these senior enthusiasts ensures their participation in advnture at a ripe age and these activities further fuel their spirit to live life to its fullest. “Now, there’s something to look forward to in life rather than going through it mechanically,” explains Gupta.

They talk about being late starters, even though the mind had always craved for a life of adventure. But it was only when they became a little free from family and work responsibilities that they followed their heart to do what they had always yearned for. “I started travelling only after I hung my boots. I was posted in Orissa and did not get much chance to be near the mountains during my work tenure,” shares Chatrath.

The wisdom that comes from age ensures that the enthusiasm they bring to adventure activites is well measured. They take part in relatively softer categories of these sports and take full care to not to overdo it.

“There are proper health check-ups to keep a tab on blood pressure etc. before starting out on a journey. Also, two doctors always accompany a group to be of help in case of any exigency,” informs Suresh Mohan. He adds, “There is a long checklist to ensure a smooth execution of the travel plan. The weather reports are studied along with identifying good places for night stay. Tents are also carried along in case one needs to take a halt in the middle of nowhere because one avoids travelling during night for the fear of landslides.”

But being cautious certainly does not mean that they do not excel in what they do. Suresh Mohan was chosen the “leader of his team” for a 10-day tour to Khardung La Pass, Leh.

Gupta, who was awarded a special trophy for being among the “elders who gave tough competition to younger competitors” in Desert Storm, 2009, shares an incident, “One becomes very involved in these activities. I remember having driven for three consecutive days while participating in Raid de Himalaya. On the fourth day, an unexpected snowfall set in and the rally had to be cancelled. Being just 200 km from the destination, it brought me on the verge of crying.”

With that kind of involvement, no wonder they are busy thinking and planning their next move. Gupta has registered himself with the Indian Motorsports Marshall Club as a volunteer for the Formula 1 Grand Prix`A0championship to be held in October at Noida. “I also started the Chandigarh Offroaders Club two years ago. The members are those motor sports enthusiasts who own 4×4 vehicles.”

Chatrath’s next trip is a trans-Siberian train journey. “I will be embarking on it all alone in two months from now.”

As this tiny group of elders grows, one of the challenges it faces is not the lack of will but that of specialised clubs or guidelines for them. There is no recognition of them as a special category. “Western countries are in general much more organised than us and the same is this case with this segment. There are special groups for the senior category and one can easily be a part of one of them by registering online,”remarks Chatrath. Funds, too, leave much to be desired. “We have funded all these activities from our own pockets,” adds Suresh Mohan.

But the fact remains that in spite of all the drawbacks, their biggest advantage is their determination to pursue their passion for adventure.

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