Why go for long walks in the woods?


Most of the times, conversations with doctor’s end with some advice like “eat healthy food, get good sleep, don’t stress too much, practice yoga and take long walks”.  I feel terrible when I shell out 2000 Rs for such a simple advice, but we all know how hard it is to follow something so simple. So, we keep going to the doctors to listen to the same advice once again!

Amongst all these recommendations, long walks are always prescribed by  everyone. Many “urbanites” walk counting their steps with gadgets on the wristbands to reach the daily target of 10,000 steps, that is approximately 8 kilometers. They feel proud about this regular practice of long walks and this achievement gets talked about when they are with friends. For “ruralites”, walking is a part of the lives and hence it is not a big deal to brag about.

But in our cities, only few are lucky who can find a garden nearby that is large enough to walk around. In small public gardens, people have to circle around several times to complete the 10,000 steps target. Those who are not lucky, take walks along the streets or promenade, inhaling the emissions of vehicles passing by and navigating through the crowds. That’s not healthy.

I live in Shivaji Park in Mumbai. This Park attracts hundreds of walkers in the mornings, afternoons as well as in the evenings and even at nights. It’s a 24×7 walking place but not terribly crowded. I see several regulars there. Some walk alone with headsets on and are brisk and seem to be very serious about their fitness. Then we see old couples who walk together in a bit of a slow pace, like the lingering sunset at the Dadar beach. You also see middle aged people walking in large groups at a fairly fast pace. They keep talking as they walk. In their talks there is often a cocktail of news from NDTV and Republic that can completely confuse anyone. These folks finally end up at the Shivaji Park gymkhana to have rounds of Vada-pav and tea, making up for the calories burnt in their walk of 10000 steps!

I therefore like to go for long walks in the woods or on clean sandy beaches whenever I get an opportunity to leave this maximum city. Hilltops like Matheran and Mahabaleshwar or beaches in Konkan and Goa are reachable with reasonable travel. One can spend a week in such places in peace and go for long walks without putting a meter on your wrist.

According to my Professor Friend, walking all alone in the woods is a mind cleansing experience. You walk to discover yourself. After such long walks in silence (only broken by the chirping of birds), you return home with a revived hope, peace and positivity. Your batteries get charged to roll your life ahead for a purpose.

But long walks with someone with you can be an interesting experience. You may or may not speak with each other while you walk. May be just a few words. I once walked in woods with a friend of mine who was just detected for lung cancer. His life ahead was uncertain. It was evening. He wasn’t speaking much. He used to stop after every 1000 steps to catch his breath. And when he would stop, he used to look at me and smile. His smile had a pain, but I think he was asking for my friendship in his difficult times. I used to pat on his shoulders and  encourage him to take the next steps. When we reached back to the Guest house, he said “Prasad, I am not worried. I know you will take care of my family”. That was the only sentence he spoke after our long walk.

I shared my views on walks with my Professor Friend. I knew he would tell me something interesting in his life. But he didn’t speak much. He was silent for a while. He then got up and instead of lighting up his cigar, he prepared two glasses of whiskies. The whiskey was a bourbon – perfect for conversations, especially to recount the memories in the past.

“Well Dr Modak, I never forget the magical power of long walks in the woods. I was 24 and courting then with a girl studying in the same institute. We were in Mussoorie. We decided to escape from the campus one day and go for a long walk on the wooded path that would reach the high point of Lal tibba. There were no tourists those days and so we were practically walking alone with no one around. We started to walk early so that we could watch the sunset and get view of the valleys from Lal tibba. We were not speaking much, just a few words only if we spotted a bird. My friend who was knowledgeable would tell me about it, but I think all this was a façade and we were silently communicating our affection to each other. I don’t think we ever expressed so on the campus”

Professor took a large gulp of the bourbon and continued

“And then something interesting happened. As we reached Lal tibba and witnessed a panoramic view of the hills and the “silent” symphony of the nature, my friend came forward and held my hand. She had closed her eyes then as if she wanted to capture the view inside her mind and share with me. I also experienced the tightness in her grip on my hand as if she wanted to walk another 10000 steps with me or may be walk together in our lives”

Professor looked outside the window and stopped speaking. It was a signal for me to leave.

I gulped my bit of the bourbon, got up and asked the most stupid question

“Professor, I presume you both continued to hold your hands on your walk back to Mussoorie”

I left the room with no response from the Professor.

I knew that Professor married his batchmate while they studied in Mussoorie. So that must be her. But I didn’t know this story. Today, unfortunately, his wife is no more and Professor walks alone in the woods.

So, where and with whom you take your 10000 steps walk also matters. Take this as Dr Modak’s advice!

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  1. Wonderful blog…I know it is very difficult to go for long walks in woods when you are staying in a city called Mumbai…but luckily in Bandra there are few lanes and places where you can get connected with environment….

  2. Nice read Doctor Modak, but you owe your readers the fact about your professor, before we take your advice and decide on 10000 steps or “Sapthapadi”.

  3. Long walks don’t necessarily have to be in wood s , they can be equally peace giving n invigorating n a lot of time give you clarity of thought s on issues long unresolved , n mind you , in Mumbai woods are a privilege of afew but let me tell you n believe me when I say you can get a lot of peaceful time traveling in a crowded local train as good as in walking in woods , I have been able to read alot during these daily commutes . More crowded the train , more impersonal n unfamiliar the crowd it can be a great quality personal time .

  4. Really impressive Doctor Modak. Wonderful piece of CAKE! Keep posting great memories of great time and great life.

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