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It was probably in my fourth standard Geography class that I first heard of Tenzing and Hillary. I remember I felt awe that they could climb the worldâ€™s tallest mountain called Everest. The mountain in itself did not cause any major ripples in my imagination as a nine-year-old. But the two men grabbed my eyeballs like no other.
Up until then, my heroes were all literary giants. Men who could wield their pens with the precision of a samurai. These two somehow snuck into that list and stayed there unobtrusively through all my years of growing up and growing old.
I am talking about 48 years ago and neither then nor later did it ever cross my mind that I would one day actually stand in the intimidating presence of Sagarmatha (Nepali name for Everest, meaning â€˜forehead in the skyâ€™). The buzz about Everest base camp (EBC) and the highly commercialized summit expeditions are about a decade old, but even as the decibel levels built up about Everest, we remained immune to it.
That is, until about a year ago, when I started to make small noises to Anil that may be we should plan a trip to EBC. Anil ruthlessly shot down the idea saying, there is no nazara (Urdu for picturesque view) there. For Anil, picturesque means verdant greenery, beautiful and fragrant flowers, snow-capped mountains and a gorgeous valley view of gushing waterfalls, flowing rivers and meandering streams.
How the trip came about:
In October 2016, we were holidaying at the historic town called Badami in Karnataka when Anil found out about Hotel Everest View in the Shyangboche region of the Everest. He emailed them and one Mr S.P. Joshi responded. In less than a week, we had planned to see off 2016 and usher in 2017 in the majestic lap of Sagarmatha.
I discovered Decathlon when I went on my maiden trip to Kailash Manas Sarovar in 2012. I was fascinated by the kind of products that were available and somehow it made me feel very young and happening, just shopping for trekking poles! Since then I have pretty much bought everything from there, not just trekking gear but even my gym clothes. So, off I went to Decathlon, to outfit Anil and myself for the Everest trip.
On the trail:
On 27th December, 2016, we flew Tara Air from Kathmandu to Lukla. My first ‘wow’ moment was when I saw that the Lukla airport was called Tenzing-Hillary airport. Our guide Sanjay picked us up from there and our homage to Sagarmatha began.
I would be lying if I said that the dominant emotion was unbridled excitement. It was a cocktail of buzz, anxiety, eagerness and apprehension. Just when we started our trek, we met some fit and strapping climbers from Australia and Canada. They were in their early twenties and their whole demeanor exuded experience and confidence.
I made the mistake of striking up a conversation with them. And learnt that they had all enrolled for a six-month mountaineering expedition training program in preparation for the trek. My heart sank. Anil and I take our fitness very seriously and we gym and run regularly. But we had not enrolled for any training program. And unlike these guys, age really was not on our side. I freaked out and wondered if this was a foolhardy expedition after all.
Up until then, I thought Everest means either summit or base camp. On the trail we met a number of people who were going to various regions in the Everest, some before Namche Bazaar, some beyond. And it seemed each of these trails was extremely rewarding in that it afforded a spectacular view, varying levels of toughness, and required different kinds of skillsets and attitude.
As we trekked towards Phakding, we found that the nazara was indeed something to feast on. There werenâ€™t any flowers that we spotted but somehow the mountain ranges, the valley, the churning Dudh Kosi river and the habitation all along was more than enough to keep us engrossed.
I was completely enchanted when we stopped at a small place for lunch and Sanjay, our guide told us that we could have tarkari â€“bhath (vegetables and rice). It took nearly an hour after we ordered for the meal to be ready. That is when I learnt that the lady cooked the meal for us with freshly plucked veggies from her garden! Believe you me, that was a luxury we had not expected at all. All along the way we saw that most of the inhabitants grew spring onions, cauliflower, cabbage and in some places, even broccoli. For the entire trip, we ate them, tender, freshly plucked and gently sautÃ©ed. It is probably blasphemous to say that it enhanced the whole experience, but it actually did.
We reached Hotel Yeti at Phakding by 2.30 in the afternoon. It is a beautiful, quaint spacious monastery and almost offered four-star luxury. The service was unintrusive, quietly efficient, even tranquil. We ate a hot meal and retired for the night. There were electric blankets on the mattress and we gratefully passed out.
We left by 8 the next day for Namche. We had been told that today would be a real test of strength as the distance was long, and the climb, steep. About four hours into the trek we had our first glimpse of Everest. It was hot and a herd of djokyos (mountain buffalos) had just kicked up dust with their hoofs. I was tired and thirsty. There was an old lady selling oranges and I am sure every time I eat an orange, I will think of my first sighting of Everest for the rest of my life. It was simply ethereal.
We stopped for lunch at a beautiful, scenic place called Jorsalle. And that is where we realized that we had goofed up. About an hour before Jorsalle, Sanjay had asked me if I could accelerate my pace. I told him no. He said at the rate I was trekking, we may not be able to reach Namche before dark and it became dark at 4 pm. Somehow I didnâ€™t take on board the ramifications of what he was implying and no one shoved it down my throat either.
But when we stopped at Jorsalle for lunch, I knew there was no way I would be able to trek and reach Namche in two hours. The only place we could bed down was this place where we had stopped for lunch. It had some six pods and a shared bathroom. We managed to get ourselves a pod and crashed for the night.
How momentous this decision to stay the night turned out to be! It took us close to six hours the next day to reach Namche, the climb was absolutely treacherous, the suspension bridges murderous, and there was no way in hell we could have trekked on this terrain in the dark. And there would have been absolutely no place to camp for the night!
But Namche was worth it. I was like a kid in a candy store. I walked in the bazaar area. Measuring my steps, matching with the imaginary footprint of all the great climbers from the past, including Tenzing and Hillary, who had walked here to shop, chat, exchange stories. It was a goose bumpy moment like no other. And just to commemorate, I even bought a woolen capri for myself!
Here too, we stayed at Hotel Yeti. And heard the news for the first time that a major electrical blow up had happened and there was no electricity in the entire region.
Hotel Everest View, Shyangboche:
The next morning, we took a helicopter to Hotel Everest View. The ride lasted five minutes, the view was spectacular and set just that right prelude to the sheer magnificence that was waiting for us for the next four days. It was snowing hard and during our stay there, it was minus 10 degrees Celsius in the day and minus 20 degrees Celsius at night! And no electricity!
But we could see the Everest from our bed. We could see the Everest from wherever we were, in the hotel. And Everest was literally at a touching distance from the hotel. And on 1st January, Anil and I sat on the deck and toasted to Sagarmatha with Sake at breakfast!
Over the next four days, we had the privilege of observing Sagarmatha in all her resplendent moods. Sunshine, sunset, cloud covered, snow laden, wind-blown, rain-soaked. You name it, she showed us all. It was a private performance, an intimate tete-a-tete, a non-stop conversation in hushed whispers. I donâ€™t know why Sagarmatha thought we deserved to be embraced, engaged and entertained in this fashion, but we were privy to her moods in all its rawness and glory.
Whilst we were planning the trip, I had seen pictures of the umpteen suspension bridges that we had to cross on our way and they all looked absolutely scary. All these bridges are on the Dudh Kosi river way below and for a hydrophobic like me it was an absolute deal-breaker.
If I remember right, we crossed some eight suspension bridges on our journey. And each time it was scarier than the previous one. I was sandwiched between our guide Sanjay and Anil. I latched on to the straps of Sanjayâ€™s back pack and focused on his head. I didnâ€™t want to look down at the river, nor did I want to see the distance we had to cover on the bridge. I just matched short steps with him and prayed fervently that the djokyos did not come towards us from the other end of the bridge.
Because djokyos are big creatures with horns. And the moment they step on the bridge (and they are always in a herd), the bridge sways like crazy and as they walk towards you, you lean so much to your side to avoid their horns that you are almost certain the bridge will tip you over into the churning waters way below! And all along you see sign boards saying so and so missing from such and such date from this bridge! The last bridge was the most treacherous as it nearly climbed a 1000 ft from one end to the other and was more than a kilometer long (it actually felt like forever and ever)!
I have to crow a little bit before I wrap up. All the young climbers we had met at Lukla, remember, I talked about them? Every one fell sick along the way. Anil and I made the trip with nary a scratch. I do believe when you go to meet such mountains, you should go with humility. Nature has its own way of showing how inconsequential you are when you are cocky.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nandini Vaidyanathan is the founder of Carma Connect (www.CarmaConnect.in) which mentors entrepreneurs, teaches entrepreneurship in ivy league business schools across the world, writes on entrepreneurship (has written two best sellers), climbs and treks. She loves to live life on her terms, using her discretion and not someone elseâ€™s.
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