When Fantasy Turns Real, the story of climbing Mount Everest.
Could God be called an artist? Or are these mountains entirely accidents of Nature? How could one account for these mountains sculpted into such wondrous shapes? How is it that man’s wonderment of their magnitude goes along with his appreciation of such breathtaking views? The mesmerizing beauty and magnificence of the Himalayas cannot be captured in words that remain forever inadequate.
Mount Everest. Peak fifteen in the vast Himalayan mountain range. In terms of measurement it is a mind-boggling 8,848 meters. Since the middle of 19thcentury this has been known to be the highest point of the world. For the 100 years that followed intrepid and adventurous men tried to climb this peak. Eventually, after many failures, it was Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary who were the first mountaineers to reach the summit. Yet human endeavour remained unsatisfied by the first success.
Efforts continue to this day, decades after Tenzing and Hillary. According to Mallory, an earlier mountaineer who died in his last attempt on the Everest, when he was asked why he wanted to climb it. “Because it is there!” he said. Every time, the experience has been different. Every time, it is a fresh challenge.
A challenge it has always been. The path to the top is known, at once treacherous yet beautiful, where a minor mistake can turn fatal. Accidents are almost inevitable, and one confronts death at every turn, only to defy it. The monumental struggle ahead is only for a few minutes of glory, on the top of the world. The experience of having overcome death leaves one descending with a smile. Man’s invincibility reigns supreme. Everything else seems inconsequential.
I was the dream of two young men from Bengal. Basanta Singha Roy and Debasish Biswas to standing atop this peak. They were members of the Mountaineers’ Association of Krishnanagar, or MAK in short.
Both had experienced many expeditions, but Mount Everest is every mountaineer’s ultimate dream.
26th March 2010. At the press conference of the 25th anniversary or Silver Jubilee of the Mountaineers’ Association of Krishnanagar, at the Calcutta Press Club, the proposed expedition to Everest was first announced formally.
Byte – Dr. P. Das Mahapatra, the President of MAK.
Basanta Singha Roy, the team leader, laid out the problems, especially the financial ones that the expedition would have to face; and an appeal for funds was made to all. The response was overwhelming. Everyone – club members, colleagues and friends contributed to ensure that the expedition could take off …
Byte – Basanta Singa Roy
Senior mountain-lover Pratima Chattopadhay handed over the Indian Flag to the team.
There were five members in all. Two climbing members Basanta Singha Roy and Debasish Biswas and 3 support members – Asok Roy, Bivash Sarkar and Sourav Sinchan Mandal.
On the next day, 27th March the climbers were given the club flag in Krishnanagar. A few days later, their historic journey would begin.
1st April. The entire team flew from Kolkata to Kathmandu; where their long time associate Pemba Sherpa received them. The first piece of unexpected bad news awaited them. Their prayer for permission to go through Tibet had been denied. There seemed to be some administrative and bureaucratic glitches. However there was a flicker of hope too. Loben Expeditions, the Agency was trying to get clearance through Nepal instead. Encouraged by this reassuring news, they reached Hotel Samsara. The members checked their oxygen masks and other equipment.
There were hectic preparations to be made, to pack their food, their testing equipment, their medical supplies, and countless other small but vital details.
The clearance to go through Nepal finally came, through and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. Normally they would have gone by the North Col on the Tibet side. Now in the changed circumstances they would have to go through South Col in Nepal. This would make the expedition a little more expensive. But these were small barriers; inspired as they were by the one mantra ‘We shall over come’. Next day a gentleman Jeevan Shresth came to meet Debasish and Basanta. He worked under one Mrs. Howley of New Zealand. They meticulously maintain the database of all Everest expeditions, whether successful or not, including the casualties.
A few days were spent in the collection of other essentials for the expedition. They went to BaidyanathStupa to get blessings from God.
5th April. The journey begins. A half an hour on a small plane of the Agni Airways takes the members to Lukla, at a height 2,842 meters. The airport is named after Hillary and Tensing. The route too is also known as Hillary Tensing route. Mt. Everest was climbed first by this route in 1953. Members stay at the Himalaya Lodge, situated just above the airport.
Next day 6th April: The trek begins at 8.30 in the morning.
A broad road goes down northward alongside the River Dudhkosi. It is a strange crisscross route by rope bridges along the river. After leaving Chiplang, Narning they reach Phakding at 2,610 meters. After a short break for lunch, they were back to their uphill trek. After crossing the river they reach a village called Manju. From here starts the Sagar Matha Sanctuary Park. In Nepal Mt. Everest is endearingly called Sagar Matha. Beyond Manju they cross another rope bridge over the river Dudh Kosi, and reach Joresale at 2,740 meters.
The next day. A long uphill walk takes them along the River Dudh Kosi. They reach a flat place marked out with stones. This is Everest View Point. All round there was beautiful flora and fauna. Glimpses of Mount Everest greeted them from this place. The painstaking trek had to start again. Finally, they reach Namche Bazar at 3,440 meters.
Next day, it was on to Syangboche. There is a small airstrip for cargo planes. The runway caters to small planes used for ferrying luggage needed by mountaineers. Ahead, is the Everest View hotel from where one could see their goal – the mighty Everest. Next to Everest there are two other peaks called Lhotse and Nuptse, and on the right Ama Dablum. Far below, are the two small mountain villages of Khunde and Khumjum. Once a tiny hamlet, this village is now flourishing, with a bazaar, hospital and school, all to the credit of the first Everesteer Sir Edmund Hillary.
From Lukla they move northeast, gradually gaining height. Way below is the river Dudh Koshi. Leaving everything behind they climb ahead. Then they face a four head crossing. They came from Namche Bazaar. The left hand road led to Khumjum village, and straight ahead was Gokio; the right hand side path led to Tangboche at 3,860 meters. This is the Everest base camp road. Here they arrived at the largest Buddhist Monastery in the area.
After Tangboche it was Pangboche at 3,930 meters. Situated here is the oldest Buddhist Monastery of this area. They took the blessings of the old Gese lama at the monastery.
Another morning, another trek. Northeast alongside the Imja Khola River. The path, barren and desolate, has practically no vegetation. By noon they reach Dingboche at 4,445 meters. They were to stay here for the night. Next morning the journey starts once more. It is an upward climb. Along the way, there are lots of Chortens with Buddhist prayer flags.
They reach Thokla, at 4620 meters, at the snout of Khumbu Glacier. Along the right side of Khumbu glacier northwards would be their next route. The team started early the next day. Another grueling day of steep trek. They reach a large well spread-out area. Here were the memorial tablets – in remembrance to dead and departed mountaineers, Sherpas attempting the mighty Everest. Here is the memorial tablet of the famous Everest mountaineer, Babu Chiri Sherpa.
After a grueling climb of 2 hours the team reaches Lobuche. They were to stay the night here. Next morning they start off for Gorakshep. All around there are glittering peaks, known and unknown. There was an ocean of pebbles and rocks all around.
Straight ahead is peak Pumori at 6,713 meters, on its right Lingturn at 6,639 meters, and further right is Khumbutse at 6,639 meters. Next to it is the remarkable Lhola Pass at 6,026 meters.
Behind Lhola Pass, they discover glimpses of the Chhangse peak rising from Tibet. Mountaineers attempting Everest from the North Col used the route, keeping Chhangse on their right. The lofty heights on Lhola’s right is not a peak, but an extension of the Everest itself, called the Everest West Shoulder, at a height of 7,268 meters. Further right is Nuptse peak at 7,864 meters. Between the rapture created by the Everest West Shoulder and Nuptse one occasionally sees the path that leads to the ultimate destination, Mount Everest.
Late morning they reached Gorakhshep at 5,140 meters. After a halt for refreshments, it was onwards to the Everest base camp, at 5,364 meters. Leaving Gorakshep behind they move North-east towards the Base Camp, leaving Kalapatthar to their left. Almost after two hours later, they reach the base camp. There are tents of other expedition teams.
It is 14th April. Kitchen and toilet tents are to be set up first. The cook Lilabati, Buddhi and helper Santosh Rana have a separate tent. There are three tents for the members. A Kitchen tent and a dining tent are also pitched.
It is always advisable to have some mountaineering activity, to keep fighting fit. They practice at the Khambu icefall, no less adventurous and fraught with danger. A jump over icy crevasse, or a climb up the slopes! All these are daring and often death defying. Here is ice sculpted wondrously by nature. Camp-I is situated on top of the icefall.
The environment all around is chilly, resulting in a lot of strain and sweating. So it is necessary to come back to base camp for rest and nourishment.The 19th is a day reserved for prayers. The Sherpas are a deeply religious people and very particular about their Buddhist rituals. Lamas come from all around to offer prayers for the success of the expedition and its safe return. Prayer flags are hung all around as a blessing for them all.
Eventually, the actual journey begins. The goal is Camp I. The Sherpa team had left a day earlier. On the 21st, Debasish and Basanta start off early at dawn. The other supporting members, Asok Ray, Bivash Sarkar and Sourav Sinchan Mondal stay back at base camp.
Basanta and Debasish climb through the Khumbu icefall surrounded by nature’s magnificent sculptures. This is really a dangerous climb and they skillfully use rope and ladder. After an arduous climb for 10 hours they reach Camp-I at around 6,000 meters. This is the famous Western Cum. On this barren level icy grounds there are tents of other expeditions and mountaineers. A single tent is pitched where they would cook, eat and sleep.
On the 22nd they return to Base camp. This is generally the rule for mountaineers in order to acclimatize themselves to the environment.They stay here for 3 days while the Sherpas and cook party leave for Camp 2 and Camp 3 to prepare for the arrival of Debasish and Basanta.
On the 26th they start again for Camp-I and negotiate the now familiar path in less than 6 hours. Next day, they start in a southeast direction for Camp 2. It is a straight trek ahead through the Khumbu glacier. On the left side is the Everest West Shoulder. Lohtse stands straight where the Khumbu glacier hits, the world’s forth-highest peak. On the right is the Nuptse with its Ridge. The only open space is in the Northwest. Surrounded on three sides by rocky walls at the center is this ice field. Appropriately, it is called the Valley of Silence. It takes 3 hours to reach Camp-2 at 6,400 meters.The Camp-2 area is at the adjacent slopes of the Everest. To the southeast is Lohtse, and the Nuptse ridge towers over the southwest. There are tents from other expeditions. Their tent and kitchen have already been set up. Ice is heated for drinking and cooking. Climbing mountains is often a test of patience, and a game of cards sometimes helps.
Adjoining Camp 2 an ice field. Next to it is the steep slope of Lohtse face rising vertically. Atop this is the Hanging glacier or Camp 3.On 29th April they leave the camp. A two-hour trek through the icy landscape and after that a steep climb. They climb the Lohtse face. Camp 2 is behind them now. Ahead is uncertainty. With the help of Jumar and ropes the slow movement up towards Camp-3 continues.Next day, it is back to Camp-2. On the 1st of May, it is back again to the base camp. Now the long wait for the weather forecast begins, waiting for the green signal. Finally the clearance comes. The conditions would be perfect at 7,500 meters and above, to attempt the peak around 14th and 16th May.
On 12th May they start off from Base Camp and reach camp 2 on the same day itself and stay for another day there. On 14th May they reach Camp-3. The supplementary oxygen is taken from here. On 15th May they start for Camp-4 at South Col with 4 oxygen cylinders.All around icy slopes cross the Lohtse face, and turning northeast they come across a yellow rock wall, called the Yellow Band. Once again, is a field of ice. There is now hope tinged with uncertainty. There they find a dead mountaineer is being carrying down by the Sherpas. Mother Nature had defeated an adventurous climber from Russia, who had come with a lot of hope. Respects are paid to his departed soul.
Further northeast they come across a black Rockwall. This is the Geneva Spur. They reach South Col at 7,955 meters. On the north stands Mount Everest, and in the south is the Lohtse peak.
This is Death Zone. With very little oxygen in the air and breathing becomes extremely difficult even while resting. So near to success, they confront the cold face of death. The wind starts howling from late afternoon. Any movement was impossible. Oxygen was needed to spend the night! Next day, the wind speed dropped in the evening. They start off for the final ascent on Mt Everest. The only luggage they carry are 4 little oxygen cylinders, a head torch, a few medicines, a water bottle, and obviously, a camera.
The temperature is now minus 25o. As they gain height the temperature falls further. The night passes pushing slowly forward, progressing one step at a time. At around 4 in the morning a ring of light is seen, and then the sun comes up. It appears that the Everest has cast a shadow on the sky. A wonderful moment indeed! In front of them was the south summit. A small peak and after that the Hillary Step, the most difficult part of this route, nearly 60 feet of Rock climbing near the summit. After that stood the highest point in the world.
The Everest Summit!
The time is 7-45 in the morning. On their southeast is Makalu, the world’s fifth highest peak, while on the south stands Lohtse. They were nothing higher anymore except the sky. The Everest is conquered. The world is under their feet!!On the summit there are 2 metallic pillars dug by Chinese Climbers. There are various flags. There is always a ritual of prayers being offered here.Its 9 am: time to return. The dream has come true. Mount Everest is truly behind them.They return by the same route and reach camp 4 by 1 pm. Here they take rest. Next day comes the descent to camp 2. On 19th May it is back to Base Camp. There is joy and elation in the camp. We have done it! A spontaneous dance on ice breaks out.
The next two days are spent in packing. Then back by the same route. Via Namche Bazaar it is back to Lukla on the 24th of May. From there, the return to Kathmandu begins.
On 27th May the expedition is back in Calcutta.
It was here that the dream had begun on the 1st of April.
At last, five adventure-loving boys from Bengal, the first ever civilian group are, made the daring attempt on Everest.
A fairy tale had truly turned into reality.
Expedition Organised By:
Mountaineers Association Krishnanagar
Adopted from the screenplay By Debasish Biswas