Into the Great Wide Open

After World War II, the old regressive imperialist order crumbled and gave way to the undisputed ascendancy of the New World in which The United States of America and the idea of Liberalism became the dominant themes. America stood for the highest human ideal – liberation of the individual. Ideas and trends originating in America began to have a universal following because the world at large saw them as self-liberating. From chewing gum and jeans to comics and burgers, outdoor activities, Hollywood and more, American trends were sweeping the world.

If America was doing it, the world wanted to emulate it.

Camping as an outdoor recreational activity and past time is as American as apple pie. It is an integral part of American cultural attitudes and has been alive for almost a hundred years. There’s camping at the school level, camping as an outing for families in trailers with designated trailer camping sites in controlled wildlife environments and then there’s the extreme camping experience for backpacking adventurers.

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For someone who is not American, this love of camping can be put down to early American history and will conjure up a kaleidoscope of scenes made up of the Wild West, Red Indians, the early migrants in their prairie schooners, chuck wagons, gun slinging outlaws, and also, roasting marshmallows over a cheerful fire to a gently playing banjo.

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Back home in India where American trends and lifestyle have many endorsers, camping is beginning to pick up steam. Summer is the best time of the year for camping. The weather may be sultry and sticky but the skies are clear. Again, just like in the country of its origin, camping in India also has its variants. There are guided camping tours for tourists who want the excitement of living in outdoor tents or standalone structures without having to brave harsh outdoor conditions. These guided camping tours offer exploring locations such as deserts, jungles and the countryside and at times even throw in a cultural spectacle of the region they are located in. Such tourist camps are run in Ladakh, Nagaland, Awadh, Dharamasala, Shimla, Rishikesh, Joshimath in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and more destinations throughout India.

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But if guided tours are too tame for your feral instincts and you want to set out on your own, pitch your own tent to experience the thrill, and face challenges in the wilderness head on, India is packed with camping spots that will test your grit and determination. Let’s run a few off-the beaten paths by you to get the Evel Knievel inside you straining at the leash –

  • Roopkund Lake also known as ‘Skeleton Lake’ in the Himalayan Mountains is a frighteningly isolated part of the Himalayan Mountains strewn with several hundred corpses that date back to 15th century

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  • Khajjar, in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, which has a very unusual combination of three ecosystems is also called India’s Switzerland.  

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Drass, a valley at an altitude of nearly eleven thousand feet above sea level also known as ‘The Gateway to Ladakh’ is situated in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir

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  • The Magnetic Hill, at an altitude of eleven thousand feet above sea level, is near Leh. Aside from being high on the favorite list of adventure enthusiasts, another attraction is its supposed magnetic pull that draws cars up its steep incline magically, which in reality is actually some kind of optical illusion at work

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  • Sandakpphu, the highest peak in the Darjeeling District at an altitude of 3,636 meters poses the biggest challenge for trekkers and campers in the Darjeeling-Sikkim region

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There are many more camping spots throughout India for the extremophile camper – The Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, The Phuktal Monastery in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, the Chadar Trek also in Ladakh, the Gurez Valley in the Kishenganga River near Srinagar, the Pangong Lake on the Indo-China border and more.

Moving on, there are some practicalities to be borne in mind when going camping in the summer –  

  • Gear or equipment must be based on your choice of wilderness – deserts, mountains, forests, etc
  • Food and water are two essentials your body cannot do without. Given the high stamina requirement needed for such outdoor exertion, the food you carry must be quick to give nourishment 
  • Carry a good supply of water. Water may be heavy to carry but you can’t survive without it
  • Comfortable clothing is equally important. Here again, your choice of clothing must be suited to the climate of your camping destination. Consider wearing full-sleeved t-shirts and light pants as you will be exposed to the forces of nature and very likely creepy crawlies at night 
  • Factor in the possibility of taking ill, getting bruised, or spraining a limb as well. Don’t brush it aside as morbid musings. The nearest doctor could be miles away. The wear and tear from roughing it out in the great wide open can take a toll on the body. Seasoned campers also account for such medical exigencies. Make sure you carry a first aid kit, medicines and a spray or lotion for sprains
  • Don’t forget to carry soap, toothbrush and toothpaste just like you would before starting out on a holiday
  • Invest in thermal wear if you are planning a camping expedition to regions during winter which are snowbound and where temperatures are likely to fall below zero

Camping during summer in the wilderness can be a visual treat affording spectacular natural scenery. Campers who don’t want to pass up such opportunities should carry a camera along with their other camping essentials. You will definitely need to carry a wireless charger for your charging your smartphone or iPad or face the prospect of being untraceable. Seriously! You don’t want to go dark at such times. Adventure junkie campers get their dose of adrenalin from the extreme outdoors but losing your way can put a damper on the all excitement. Carrying a gps device helps you pin point your position in the wilderness and gives you an idea of plotting your course ahead. Torch lights and night lamps are absolutely vital for campers, as once night falls, finding your way in and out of your tent or even inside your tent shouldn’t have you floundering in pitch blackness.      

In summary, the camping experience has many positives – it exposes the mind to the challenges in the wilderness, fostering a sense of leadership through decision making and taking, which in turn is vital to building self- confidence. Camping also underscores the spirit of cooperative action and constructive participation. Not convinced? Try a trust fall at your next camping expedition.

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