Walkathon to Lone Weir – 18/11/12

The mist in the valley

It was 5 degrees outside when we set out on this Sunday morning. There were five of us. Four doctors and one ‘almost doctor’, her having hung out with us all this while. We drove to the outskirts of Ooty, parked near a tea-shop (which was closed at this unearthly hour), and set off towards Lone Weir. The pace was brisk, as always. There were time constraints, as always! We have to choose carefully where to linger. The objective was to test our endurance as well as take in the surroundings.

It was a gorgeous winter day. The thick mist still sulked in the valley reluctant to leave as the sun began its ascent. The grass was still wet with the frost and dew. Mostly, it has been burnt a pale brown with the frost. There were miles and miles of grassland covering the gentle undulating slopes.


This land belongs to the Todas, a pastoral tribe in the Nilgiris. It cannot be sold or cultivated. According to an interesting paper from the Department of Anthropology, University of Berkeley, the English have seen to it that Toda pastures are not infringed upon. British motives for this thoughtfulness could have been twofold; they cherished the Todas, the ancient monuments and game preserves; secondly, the Toda pastures made excellent cover for a hunt which the English and the native Rajas maintained in the Nilgiris.  This is a blessing for us now.  Perhaps the grasslands will remain unsullied for a while yet until another reckless legal ruling comes into play. Some of this land that had originally belonged to these very tribals is said to have been bought from them by John Sullivan when he came to the hills more than a hundred and fifty years ago, for a paltry sum of Rs. 1 per acre! The British changed the ecosystem of the area when they planted exotic, water guzzling trees like Eucalyptus and Acacia in place of the ‘sholas’ and swamps which were the primary sources of the water reeds used to build the Toda houses.

We managed to negotiate the remaining swamp with some minor mishaps like getting our feet in the slush and eventually having to detour.

The remaining climb opened up to some glorious views. Distant folding hills, the sharp angles of the Mukurti Peak, the Sholas in numerous shades of green, eucalyptus glades, cypress and acacia.

We passed a Toda “Village” that consisted of precisely one house with a couple of people and some buffalos. An elderly Toda man was grazing his prized possession.

We reached what is apparently a Disaster Management tower. It was a single room built on stilts about eighty feet high with a narrow iron ladder leading up to it. With some trepidation, we climbed to the tower to be greeted by the most spectacular views. There was the Sandynella lake on one side, azure in the morning sun, the hills in the distance, vast grassland and forests under the vivid blue sky. It was awe-inspiring.


After taking in the magnificence, we headed back to the main road, stopping for tea at a shop meant for tourists. There was a boisterous crowd of young people there already. Some young men chased a poor horse and when chastised turned around to say, “We are Malyalis. We are from Kerala. We are like that only”!!!! Now what do you say to that?

A bit exasperated after that last encounter we headed to our car and drove back to go about the rest of our day. It had been a long walk, 15 Km at least, some of it on steep inclines and at that pace had been quite exhausting. Exhausting but exhilarating at the same time.

To be a Better Version of Oneself!

“Women are angels, but when our wings are broken, we continue to fly……. on broomsticks, we are flexible like that!!”……..I love that quote, have no idea who said it!

As an Obgyn I am constantly amazed at the strength of a woman. How much we endure physically and emotionally. The various changes the body undergoes right from attaining puberty; the changing body in pregnancy and through menopause. It is not easy to stay focused on fitness routines or pay attention to physical appearance. There is just so much going on. Besides the hormonal swings, we have families, careers, hobbies, friends, competitors and loved ones to deal with. Yet we do! Beautifully!!!! (Well, most of the time anyway!)

If you doubt yourself in any way, endure criticism or pointless comments especially about physical appearance; remember what an extraordinary job you are already doing. Remember to tell yourself that your life is yours alone. Others opinions are not always relevant.

I believe we are all capable of great things,

I believe we have it within us.

I believe we are truly capable of healing ourselves just as we help and heal those around us.

For this to happen we need to accept a simple truth –

We need to stop playing the victim, get over ourselves and stop getting in our own way of realizing our potential.

Here are what I find the 5 most common self-defeating attitudes:

–     Self-pity – The easiest thing to do is to indulge in self-pity.

‘I have no time’,

‘I do ALL the work myself’,

‘I am a career woman AND I look after home and children’.

‘I get no help from my husband or the rest of the family’,

‘ My boss is over demanding’ and so on.

These pessimistic thoughts can keep one from actually finding solutions to problems that may very well be real, but are certainly not irredeemable. Most women these days are confronted work, family and a hundred other things and expected to sustain high performance levels. One is not alone. If one really chooses to face up to ones circumstances and work around the problem, it is possible to do so. Granted there may be other sacrifices to be made. But again, these are CHOICES that one makes.

–     Not being honest about lifestyle choices – We may have a tendency to avoid the truth if not be outright dishonest. I have counseled several women who swear they “hardly eat anything”, “exercise all the time”, “have absolutely NO TIME to exercise” and so on. This may be far from the truth and does nothing but prevent progress. It is best to lay all the cards on the table, accept responsibility and try to find honest solutions to real problems, not make-believe ones. This is pure self-sabotage because the only one harmed by avoidance strategy is oneself.

–     Laying the blame on other people or situations – It is easier to blame someone or something else for one’s life situation. Be it being over weight, unhealthy, depressed, having to handle career and family or even, not being able to work outside of home but having to stay a house-wife. Blaming someone else makes the situation seemingly easier to deal with. In reality, it is not. Trying to lay the responsibility of ones life choices on someone else takes away the power from oneself. It creates a sense of helplessness, deepens self-doubt and lowers self-esteem. Once again, it is a CHOICE one makes. A decision whether to take responsibility for ones own life, mistakes and all, or consistently lay the blame on someone else.

–     Not seizing an opportunity for improvement when it is available – Oftentimes, even when one is faced with an opportunity for change, one is unable to exploit it. For various reasons, some of which are listed above. Opportunities are available all the time. One has to be open to them. One has to be willing to face the challenge if there is to be any improvement. It is not always easy to change ones lifestyle, eating habits, activity, thought process and so on. However, change is inevitable if there has to be progress.

–     Always looking for a quick fix or an easy way out – Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Therefore, if it is a better quality of life, a better body, a fitter mind that one is looking for, it takes time and effort. Believing in quick-fix solutions, vacillating from one extreme diet to another in the hope of quick weight loss, trying bizarre exercise plans, pills and potions are not long-term solutions. Nothing is worse for ones moral than regression. Regression is what happens when one finally realizes these temporary solutions don’t work.

Setting aside these self-defeating attitudes can create the right environment for growth  from strength to strength. It is not always easy. One is so often tempted to let go and blame the world for our condition including out weight gain or poor fitness.

–     “It’s the fast food industry to blame.”

–     “It’s the internet and TV that make us so sedentary”,

–     “It’s my husband/mother-in-law who drive me to eat too much”. Whatever the excuse, it’s just that – An Excuse.

Every one of us does have a CHOICE that we can exercise with respect our own lives. We can choose not to eat unhealthy food, not to sit in front of the TV for hours on end, not to let other people’s attitudes intrude on our peace of mind. It is a choice. Perhaps not an easy choice, but a choice nevertheless.

As I said, we ARE capable of amazing things. I have seen it in the most unusual women –

– A poor village housewife doing a brilliant job of bringing up responsible, remarkable children.

– An elite socialite with her own sense of responsibility to society, working tirelessly for a cause.

– A busy doctor reinventing herself by losing an incredible amount of weight, improving her health and changing the direction of her life. I have seen the force of their spirit sustain them through the most difficult times.

…..These and many more such women are the inspiration to try to be a better version of oneself.





Not just about Weight Loss: Walking for Fun and Fitness

Sunday morning and the alarm gently nudged me awake. These days with a mobile phone alarms, you are not rudely awoken to a screaming clock, shocked out of perhaps a pleasant reverie. Nevertheless, being woken up at 5 am on a Sunday morning is not enjoyable however soothing the awakening.

“You can’t be serious” I cursed to myself as I debated whether to actually get out of bed or pretend the alarm had never happened. “A Walkathon on a Sunday!?” I could not have possibly organized that! What had processed me? This is the ritual every Sunday that I organize a Walkathon. The incredulous self-talk goes on for a couple of minutes before I drag myself out of a cozy bed into a bitterly cold morning.

The group’s punctuality still amazes me while meeting for a Walkathon. 6am and we were ready to go.

We drove to the point where the cars were to be parked and then set off uphill through the wet tea bushes. It never occurred to me that one could get lost amongst tea bushes. But, apparently one can! It a maze of green leaves in ever direction for miles. Easy to feel completely disoriented. Well, I for one can get lost in my own kitchen, so a vast tea estate is easy!

The mist curled over the tea bushes. Hovering over them as the sunlight tried to peek through. The climb was steep in places. Through a wooded patch, trees covered with moss. An incredible sight! The last of the Rhododendrons were still blooming.

After about sixty minutes of steady climbing through tea and trees, slipping and sliding in points, we were at the top of a semi-plateau. A high Grassland at the top of the gentle rolling hill. Various flowering shrubs scattered around. Witches broom growing in a huddle in places. A large pile of rocks of varying sizes obviously collected and placed there for a reason. Perhaps a temple of sorts? Prayer stones?

Beyond the grassland, a panorama unfolded. The pine and eucalyptus forests just below. The wide river far ahead in the valley luminous in the early morning sun. Mountains, plains, hills, trees. Nature in all its glory.  As far as the eye could see, there were the gentle mountains. The Nilgiris.  It takes your breadth away.

You can almost hear the silence. Save for a random bird screeching and the occasional rustle of the wind there is nothing but the beautiful quiet.

These walkathons are a part of the fitness activity for the group of students that are part of my fitness program called “Training For Life”.

Training For Life addresses the various aspects of fitness including Cardio, Strength, Endurance & Flexibility.  The Walkathons test the endurance of the leg muscles. Our walks are anywhere between 2 and 5 hours and up to twenty Km. We’ve covered a variety of terrains the slippery pine forests covered in pine needles, rocky sides of the mountain, tea bushes, wild undergrowth of  the ‘Sholas” of the Nilgiris, the shades of the Eucalyptus trees. Every one of the Nineteen Walkathons we have done so far have been memorable. It has given us the opportunity to explore the glorious Nilgiris. Places we never knew existed.

Although the walks are strenuous, long and not always easy, they are made enjoyable with the enthusiasm everyone brings to the table and the splendor of the setting.

It is also a way of including exercise as part of a pleasurable activity. A way of encouraging people to view physical activity as fun. A way of enticing them to make it a part of their lives.

The early morning, sleep deprivation, the cold are all worth enduring for the visual treats that await.

Much as I curse, I know I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Cycling for fun and fitness…

Cycling is by far one of my favorite fitness activities. The thrill of the speed on the bike. The wind in your face. The possibility of covering huge distances in short periods of time. The feel of your lungs exploding and muscles burning as you labor up a hill and then the sense of utter liberation when you joyously sail down on the other side.

You can burn up to 500-600 calories an hour biking depending on your weight, speed and incline covered. Here’s a link to calculate calories burned:


One of the major advantages of biking is that it is low impact and rarely places undue pressure on the joints. Unlike running which poses a problem for the knees due to the incessant pounding, biking is more knee friendly. You have to adjust your seat and pedal height to suit the length of your legs however. Inappropriate seat height, which leads to excessive flexion of the hip joint while pedaling can place stress on the knees.

The major muscles that are used while biking are the Quadriceps and Hamstring muscles of the thighs and the Gastronemius and Soleus or the calves. The maximum effort is placed on these muscles as you ride uphill or against the wind which creates a drag that essentially almost pushes you back as you ride.

On long slow rides, especially on flat ground the muscles concerned are working Aerobically that is with the continuous supply of oxygen to create the energy source, Adenosine Tri Phosphate or ATP which fires the muscles. As the workload increases and one rides uphill, the muscles begin to demand more oxygen than the lungs can supply and therefore create an Anaerobic environment (where the muscles function without oxygen by tapping into the glycogen stores instead to supply energy for the working muscles). The problem with Anaerobic activity however is the by-product of the anaerobic cycle which is lactic acid, accumulates in the working muscles. This accumulation of Lactic acid is what causes that intense burning sensation in the muscles which makes you want to jump right off the saddle and lie down on the road.

A combination of lower intensity riding on flat ground and some sprints or incline riding works best to improve ones stamina and muscle endurance.

In a place like Ooty one is blessed with the natural inclines. A good gear bike is essential. Gears on a bike help ride the inclines easier. I said easier not easily! You still have to work those muscles, but it is easier that when trying to ride a hill without gears.

Accessories on the bike like a good quality helmet, a water bottle holder, a mileage tracker, headlights are essential. You also get great seat covers to increase saddle comfort, riding gloves to protect the hands and elbow and kneepads to protect you in the event of a fall.

You get some great clothes for cycling too. The fitted tights, tracks, t-shirts and jackets are better suited to ride. Synthetic material, like Dri-fit from Nike is great for all-weather and to keep friction to the minimum for a smoother ride.

Obviously, your sun glasses and a good sunscreen should be on your list of necessities depending on the weather and the time of day one is riding.

Much as I love biking however, that cannot remain the only form of exercise. Weight training to strengthen the leg muscles improves your ride. Biking does not involve the upper body, which is essentially stationary and sometimes hunched over the handlebars to reduce drag. All this necessitates training the upper body with weights to bring balance to the body’s musculature. One will otherwise end up with great toned legs and a flabby upper. Strengthening the core and low back are also important to avoid strain in these areas. The position on the bike sometimes compromises the back and can cause muscle imbalance and pain if the muscles are not strengthened appropriately. A good stretch after every ride is essential if you want to keep riding! Tight muscles that remain that way after a long ride will tighten further. The next day will find yourself barely walking, leave alone riding if this is not addressed.

Staying safe is priority in any sport. There is no point courting danger by riding in high traffic or dangerous terrain and ending up injured. I for one cannot afford to be laid up and am certainly not a competitive cyclist to take risks that the professionals do. So for me, a clean ride, with some hills thrown in are sufficient to keep me happy.

I wish we could all ride more often. It is certainly an eco-friendly way to get about especially with the cost of gasoline the way it is not to mention the shortage. Every place should have cycling tracks are separate from the heavy traffic areas. It’s fantastic that school children in Tamil Nadu have been given bicycles by the chief minister. This may be one good truly thing she has done to improve health of children.

Cycling is a great way to stay fit. I have ridden through some beautiful countryside in the Nilgiris. Another memorable ride was in the gardens of Versailles in France where a friend and I hired bikes and rode through the dazzling backdrop of the palace gardens for hours.