A Journey to the Top of the World (Well Almost…)

This is part of the Everest Series by Rohit Kumar.

Rohit accomplished the rare feat of climbing to the Everest Base Camp (5,364m) and Nagarjuna peak (5,100m). In this series of posts, Rohit describes his personal experiences of scaling one of the world’s most treacherous terrains.

See also: When Everest Called

 

If you had never run five kilometres in this life, then climbing five kilometres up into the sky would seem nothing but crazy. In May 2017, I decided to join a crazy bunch on a trek to the Everest Base camp. A decision that entailed spending 13 days in a sleeping bag, facing a mild blizzard, getting knocked down by a crazier bunch of people running downhill for an Everest marathon and getting back home on a helicopter. And yet we were motivated enough to limp our way up the breathtaking Khumbu Valley to Base Camp.

We flew from Kathmandu (1400m) to Lukla (2860m), often referred to as the ‘most dangerous airport’ in the world. The bumpy landing we had at Lukla and the death of a pilot and co-pilot five days later while landing there, endorsed the label. But the most amazing view that the Himalayas offered there, made us forget everything else. Not to forget the very helpful and hospitable Sherpa community. We started out from the Lukla check-post whilst dancing to a popular Bollywood song with a Nepalese police officer.

The way up to Phadking (2610m), Namche Bazar (3440m), Tengboche (3867m) and Dingboche (4410m) offered a diversity of flora and fauna including snow leopards, moon bears and high altitude scrub vegetation (not to forget the famed Yeti, during our daydreams). We moved along the river Dudh Koshi; its water as white as the Himalayan snow it comes from.

A Sherpa hamlet near Phadking, Nepal
A Sherpa hamlet near Phadking, Nepal

We took multiple short breaks to take photographs, sip water and munch energy bars. Every break was an opportunity to talk to members of other groups trekking along with us. The groups which start on the same day from Kathmandu, keep meeting during the trek in teahouses and keep chatting a lot along the way.

I met an American who had been trekking continuously for the last one year, an 18-year-old German boy who had saved money to see four continents, a 55-year-old Canadian lady determined to make it to the Base Camp, a 70-year-old Japanese coming to the Himalayas for the fourth time, a 16-year-old Indian school kid, an Israeli Army officer on a world tour before his secret assignment and a Taiwanese teacher teaching and roaming the world. We discussed everything from Trump to ancient Iranian culture. I learnt a new way to cook shakshuka and made some friends for life.

Playing cards in the heated dinning halls of teahouses was a preferred pass-time. I spent one of those evenings playing with Sharon Sherpa, an 8-year-old daughter of a teahouse owner. She was extremely happy when I made a paper swan for her and a smaller swan for her 3-year-old brother! Dinners were often smorgasbords. If one dish looked or tasted good, it was ordered by multiple people. One of our hosts looked flabbergasted when we ordered pizza for breakfast!

After four days of playing hide and seek with the clouds, we finally got a glimpse of Mt. Everest on the way to Tengboche. It was very far in the distance and looked very small. The way leading up to the top looked white and icy but the top seemed barren and black. Maybe because this pinnacle of the world is constantly bombarded with snow but the snow is whipped away by very strong wind streams.

The first view of Everest (far left) from somewhere near Tengboche
The first view of Everest (far left) from somewhere near Tengboche

One of the most serene places along the way is Tengboche monastery. It’s as beautiful outside as peaceful inside. Many of us offered our prayers there and meditated for an hour during afternoon prayers. A very kind lama joined us outside, trying to get a yak indoors before the cold waves started. In my conversations with him, asked him “There is so much bigotry in the world. Where do we start?” He smiled and said “Start by loving yourself. Keep smiling.” I thanked him and he thanked me back for the opportunity to share with me. He also offered us two books to read along the way.

The beautiful Tengboche monastery and picturesque landscape with Everest in the background
The beautiful Tengboche monastery and picturesque landscape with Everest in the background

Next up along the way is a memorial built to remember those who could not come back home from Everest. We observed a two-minute silence and offered our prayers there, saluting their push to the final frontiers of human endurance.

As we wandered up to Dingboche, the abruptly changing climate, high-speed winds and cold weather ensured that everyone had their windbreakers, down jackets and gloves out. Dingboche valley has stunning views of Ama Dablam peak (6812m) on one side and Nagarjuna peak (5100m) on other. Some of us climbed Nagarjuna peak next morning. Some others enjoyed the amazing starry sky that night from inside a sleeping bag, in the open.

By the time we crossed Lobuche (4940m) and Gorak Shep (5164m), people were so tired, they were even ready to ride a yak. Some others wanted to hop onto a helicopter. But despite extreme fatigue, headache and bruises, all of us were united in the desire to be at Everest Base Camp.

One can’t help but make a big final push to reach the spectacular Everest Base Camp. Beautiful alpine forests of pine and wild cherry blossom had made way for snowy melted glaciers. The orange tents at the edge of a massive sheet of ice were the symbols of the experience of a lifetime. The feeling that ‘I made it’ finally started to creep in as I pushed myself for the final ridge in the thin air.

The final ascent to Base Camp was more adventurous than the entire trip combined. I almost fell down a massive snow block, faced a mini blizzard and collapsed from dehydration. But that’s a separate story in itself. There was no time to dwell on these things because I soon had to go back down. I had promised Sharon that I would make a jumping frog for her, on my way back.

See also: When Everest Called

 

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Rohit Kumar
Rohit Kumar is an engineer and finance professional by training, but healthcare enthusiast by heart. For his day job, he works as a finance professional at a Fortune 5 firm. In a pro bono engagement with a charitable trust, Rohit helped to build a 750 bed hospital, working on the financial and funding aspects.

Rohit led a group to the Everest Base Camp in May 2017. He crowdfunded an effort to light an ancient village in Leh, Jammu and Kashmir, through the installation of a solar microgrid. He loves sketching and is a distance running enthusiast. He has completed 3 half marathons.

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