Shodh Yatra @ IIM Ahmedabad

 | July 29,2010 03:14 pm IST

One of the reasons why this institute stands on a pedestal so higher than others is the uniqueness and ingenuity in its course curriculum and methodology of its implementation. This was instantly ratified the moment I joined and heard about this course called ‘Shodh Yatra’.

Here was a course so different from the rest that it was hard not to catch the fantasy of everyone.


This course takes place in the term break between the fourth and fifth terms. A group of 30 odd students are taken on a week long trek to different places in India every year by Prof. Anil Gupta. The Professor is renowned for his social work and runs his own NGOs as well. The intent of the course is to sensitize the students to the harsh realities of our country and to come-up with some creative solutions after brain-storming discussions. This year, the destination was Sikkim and I was ready to bid any number of points to book the course for me.


To be honest, the primary reason that motivated me to sign-up for this course was the fact that it would provide me an opportunity to go on a fascinating trek to a beautiful place with my friends and have fun.


There were two more big reasons which convinced me of sacrificing my chance to go home in the holidays and instead opt for this course. The first was that I wanted to spend some quality time with myself. The first year had been extremely hectic and I realized that I was so engrossed in daily routine and pursuits and trying to maintain my social relations that I was starting to lose track of time and in the process, distancing myself from my heartfelt aspirations and feelings. I needed some peaceful time with myself and introspect on what have I been doing and how I need to go ahead in my life, clearly prioritizing my needs and time. The second reason was that I realized this would be a unique opportunity for me to get close to the rustic life of the hills and put myself in the shoes of those who have not been so lucky in life as I.


We all met at the Delhi airport, armed with our rucksacks and sleeping bags, and the enthusiasm on our faces was for everyone to see. The flight to Bagdogra was 3hr 45 min long as it went via Guwahati, making it the longest I have ever flown at a stretch. But it was a most entertaining journey, with all of us playing various games on board, much to the chagrin of the flight attendants! We hired taxis to take us to SMIT, an engg college which was supposed to be our base camp from where we would start our ascent.


We climbed around 20 odd kms every day for the next 5 days. We would take the jungle routes and the all the other paths that cut across the beautiful step farms and mountains but avoid the road as much as possible. Our luggage and food supplies were carried by two vehicles. We all would start together in the mornings, we climbing through the trek trails while the cars took the road. By lunch time, the vehicles would have stopped at a mid way place and cooked food for us. We would reach hungry and tired, quickly eat the food, rest for 10 min and then move on. The tiredness, hunger and the serene surroundings made that break a great moment to look forward to. On our way, we would stop by to meet farmers, workers, school kids and talk to all of them, understanding their work, life and culture.


Our trek for the day would end by late evening, when we would reach a small village, where we hired a couple of rooms in a local school. We would clean the rooms and then set our sleeping bags on the floor, ready in a moment for the night ahead. Post dinner, we used to have some meaningful discussions with the prof about whatever we learnt throughout the day and discuss some innovative solutions to the problems these villagers faced. And then the next day, the same routine would continue.


SY is not an easy course to take. I have been a sportsman since long and hence was confident about my abilities to complete the trek without any problems. But honestly speaking, at the beginning, I wasn’t sure if all the members in our group will be able to do the same. Climbing 20 kms everyday through the treacherous trekking trails was an arduous task. I remember how in the night, being the thinnest in the group, I would walk on the legs of my pals to act as the official massager of the group! We were quite tired of the same food that we had everyday but the options in the villages in the night were not too great and hence the foodies in the group had a tough time! The places where stayed in the night were just the bare minimum.


Two rooms in a village school and that’s it. There were couple of toilets but u can imagine the plight with 30 people wanting to use them every morning ! And last but not the least, the constant threat of leeches! Nearly half of us fell victim to those blood suckers so much so that it slowly was no big deal for us as were always ready with salt in our pockets! The crux is that it was physically a pretty tough course. You must be prepared to rough it out.


But what still made it probably the best course for most of us? The same usual IIMA spirit! I was simply amazed on the very first day itself when we had to climb the longest through the toughest possible route. I remember at one place, we had to hang with the support of a root in order to cross a chasm. One slip of hand and we would have been hurling down the mountain! By the time we reached our school, it was dark with no street lights and no torches. But the camaraderie and team spirit left me amazed. We all kept on helping each other, singing songs, motivating each other all the while.


There were lots of girls who surprised all of us with their stamina and spirit. It was tough for them and we could see that. But never for a second did they give up and continued their march in great spirit. Everyone used to get exhausted at the end of the day. But the fun we had on the way and in the night before sleeping was what that made the trip so worthwhile  I remember one of the schools we stayed at had wooden rooms with no electricity! And it was pouring cats and dogs in the night. What fun it was! The sound of raindrops on the wood, with all of us cuddled in our sleeping bags, chatting and having fun as the candle night burnt its way out…


The other great thing abt the trip was that we made a lot of new friends. Not everyone of us knew every other person in the group very well since we were from diff sections in the first year. But during the daily treks, we would often split in smaller groups and chat along the way, thus getting to know each other much better. I came to know that TJ is a sports freak and very warm and caring at heart, that Vidya is a very sweet girl who will do anything for her friends and that bakarr is an extremely down to earth guy, notwithstanding the big I-Banks that queue up for him during placements. We all would talk and giggle when the lights would go out in the night, rush to get salt when there was a leech attack and keep motivating others during those arduous climbs.