A Trek Leader Observes: Selfies Are Cocaine

Trekker 1: *Jumps*

Trekker 2: *Clicks Photo On Phone*

Trekker 1: *Runs toward Trekker 2*

*Both look into the mobile screen*

T1: This is no good. My eyes are closed.

T2: Haan, also, see the left leg is too close to the ground.

*Repeat several times until it’s time to leave the summit*

Me: Oh a photo where you’re in mid-air and there’s a view (say, oh I don’t know – a lake?) in the background? Wow that is not cliche at all, like I’ve never seen this on social media before, nope.


Here we are, on a seemingly endless high meadow. Barring a clump of oak, and a few jutting cliffs of bare brown rock, there is nothing but grass on this shelf. Below us, we are surrounded by forested hills, and they are criss-crossed by valleys, and the mist that fills them glows when the late-morning sunlight filters through it. And these hills change colour, from brown-green into black, white and grey, and they shoot upwards, as we take our gaze away into the horizon.

On the horizon, these hills are turned into the high Himalayas. From northwest to southeast, the Yamunotri and Gangotri ranges. The skyline of the gods. The mountains are beautiful. Everything in this place (and the places we trekked through over the past two days) is surreal. The mist, the sky, the glimmer of sunlight on distant ice. The call of a hidden bird. The rustle of the oak trees in the breeze. The sound of a startled pheasant, bolting into the woods.

View from Brahmatal summit. Photo by Jugal Dhimar

I could go on, but I’m getting somewhat self-conscious of my own eloquence.

My point is that these places are full of great beauty and great subtlety. I really like it when trekkers are struck, rendered speechless, and just really moved by what they see. And they often are. I see it in their eyes, I see it in their faces, that they’re engaging with nature, taking a moment to just be. Away from cellphone networks, away from family, right here in the wilderness. I’m very happy that I can be part of this moment.

But increasingly, there are groups who get photo-fever.

The anxiety is what I notice first. It is as if they are worried that they’ll leave this place without the best possible photo that they could have taken. So how do they combat this photo-FOMO? They take photos all the time, as many as they can, from as many angles as they can. Of themselves, mind you.

You can really hear the stress in their voices. We reach the summit and this group that I am thinking of, their hands would go automatically in their pockets. Myths, local legends and nature be damned, their selfie-game (or groupfie-game) needed to be on point.


“Take one from here!”
“And one from there!”
“Let’s raise our hands! No! Let’s dab”
“LAAAME, I’m not dabbing”
“OK fine, just raise your hands then”
“Hey take mine, all of you leave this place”
“From here?”
“No, the lighting is odd, maybe there?”
“Ok ok, just take one anyway, then take from there also”
“OK now just one us. Where is Geeta [random name]? Geeta!” “GEEEETA!!”
“What”
“COME HERE, We’re trying to take a photo”
“OK wait, let me take a selfie and then I’ll come”


Here, in the midst of the mountains, the urgency and stress contained in my trekkers’ voices seems very out of place. The need for photos is intense, it is overpowering. It is weird to see them, young people, middle-aged people – both being driven by the hand of social media. Driven by that need, they are oblivious of their surroundings. Leave aside engaging nature or listening to local tales, I’m more worried that they will fall off the freaking cliff.

Oh, and I notice that their poses are contrived to exude peace – meditating, staring into the distance alone, sitting on the cliff-edge looking thoughtful. Also, here they are shouting and twitching with selfie-fever, and then much later their Facebook caption says ‘#Silence’, ‘#Peace’.

BRO, what IRONY.

By behaving like this, we’ve changed what a trek feels like. Instead of a continuous and relaxed experience, a place for personal growth, we now have a series of selfie-spots that one must get to (with some difficulty) and exploit. #MuchWow. #Amaze. #MountainsAreCalling.

I resolved to tell people to stop moving and sit themselves the hell down for ten minutes at each summit.

No talking, no photos, nothing. I don’t like doing it – it makes me feel like a taskmaster, but I’ve got no choice. At least the non-selfie-takers get some peace in this way.

Like I said, this is my opinion. There’s no moral high ground for not liking selfies, or taking less photos. But there are other advantages. You observe. You explore your own mental response upon sight of these mountains. You see birds. You notice the little things, the ones I wrote about in the first paragraph. You appreciate the fact that you might not come here again. You make conversation with your fellow trekkers, people you might not see again. These little things help me remember each trek better.

Absorbing in the views on the Kuari Pass trek. Photo by Aditya Ganpule

So next time you go on a trek, impose a rule upon yourself. If you must take photos, do so silently, and maybe limit your selfies/groupfies to, say two a day? See what happens. If you feel discomfort – analyze it. Why do you feel this discomfort? What exactly is it that you want of the selfies, that is causing you to neglect the subtler aspects of this journey that we call a trek?

 

Soumitra B

Soumitra B

Soumitra is a chemical engineer who has suspended his profession for some time to be a Trek Leader. Before joining Indiahikes, he was part of a cancer research lab at Johns Hopkins University. When he treks, he often documents the birds he encounters - he's spotted more than two hundred across the country so far.

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