The First Step
“I am writing this to share my adventure with you so that if anyone else decides to follow this path can do so without batting an eyelid. I signed up for Everest Base Camp 2021 with the “Boots & Crampons” at the behest of my brother-in arms, Lt. Col. Romil Barthwal – an Everest Summiteer. It turned out to be one of the best decisions made in all the years I have walked on mother Earth“. Explains Col. Anirudh Prasad, an adventure sports enthusiast- a microlight aircraft pilot and a water skier.
The Everest base camp trek is actually an acclimatation route for all those who have dreams of scaling the mighty Sagarmatha and being branded as an Éverester for life. However just to reach the base of the formidable Mount Everest can be construed as an achievement in itself. A 14-day round trek, with an average of 10 hours on foot daily, oxygen deprivation at every meter gained, symptoms of acute mountain sickness and the cherry on the cake- no bath at the end of the day isn’t exactly one’s idea of a recreational vacation. However, people do it who are passionate and have the courage to follow their heart; they are the ones who achieve the impossible as a tribute to the human spirit.
Is this adventure, a tick off of one’s bucket list meant only for the lion hearted? It is for normal people like me and those who are willing to stretch outside their comfort zone to explore a world which is mostly seen through the eyes and lens of those strong-willed people who have been there, done that. With that as a preamble I will narrate and try to do justice to the out-of-the world experience which I was transported to for 14 days while trekking deep in the Himalayas.
Now was this a typical case of ‘the Monk who sold his Ferrari’ and one of those Mavericks we read about leaving a well settled corporate job to go trekking in the Himalayas in search of inner peace and soul searching? I can assure you it’s none.
Was it a bold and a courageous decision? I feel some of the best decisions in life are taken on a whim and till one doesn’t explore what’s on the other side of the hill one will never know. Traveling in these unprecedented times was not for the faint hearted- again it’s not a ‘dare’ and honestly the whole experience of spending hours at the airports have been pretty intimidating to say the least.
The Starting Point
So, it was this motley group of passionate people who met up at Kathmandu on the 3rd of April 2021 to trek as a team to the Everest Base Camp (EBC). The short 30 mins hop the next day to the start point became an adventure in itself. Lo behold- instead of Lukla our friendly pilots landed us at Phaphlu due to unfavourable weather conditions at Lukla. We did start our adventure but from a different start point. After spending a night at Hotel Dream, the next morning, Nepal’s friendly air operator- Tara Air flew in and dropped us at Lukla.
It was here where after a hearty breakfast at a quaint Café we began our journey into the Sagarmatha National Park and the long trek to the ‘base camp’. The initial hours were filled with fun, frolic and laughter as the serene and the beautiful landscape with the Dudh Kosi River flowing through the valley made our hearts sing with joy.
There was an air of festivity amongst the group and it was further enhanced by the youngest member – ‘Nishchay’ all of 12 years who lead the pack and kept everyone entertained with his chirpy banter. Within no time we were hungry and stopped at village Ghat for a local lunch of Dal Bhaat, Sherpa stew and hot tea. As reiterated by Romil continuously the need to keep hydrated was an effort as nobody would be thirsty enough to drink on their own but nevertheless it became second nature when the trek leader made sure everyone consumed a litre in front of him on day 1.
It was post lunch, when the group started to slow down and the increasing altitude slowly started taking its effect. The distance to Namche Bazaar- our first halt was still a few hours away and the initial exuberance was slowly dampening with the dwindling sunlight. However, the group stayed together with our josh-box Amit who kept everyone motivated and optimistic by singing and cracking jokes and once the sun set, his voice was a guiding beacon in the dark woods. It was around 8:30 PM after a trek of almost 12 hours when the group finally trudged wearily into the lodge- tired yet with undaunted spirits and smiling faces thereby concluding the first day at Namche Bazaar.
The next day was rest and acclimatisation leaving us free to explore the by lanes of Namche replete with colourful cafes and small shops selling knick-knacks to serious trekking and mountaineering gear. We did enjoy our steaming hot chocolates in the cafe and mingling with the friendly locals and the other trekkers from all over the world was a refreshing change. Here, we also got the opportunity to visit the famous Sagarmatha National Park Museum with the very imposing statue of Tenzing Norgay- a must visit.
It was a wonderful day giving the team time to rest and recoup for the next day was going to be challenging with increasing altitude and approximate 8 hours trek to the night halt at village Phortse. The evening dinner around a warm fire with the lilting and melodious strains of the flute by our local Sherpa guide Jetha Dai was the perfect end to a lovely day.
Waking up to a beautiful morning with clear skies and the sunlight bathing the surrounding peaks in a lovely golden shade was a surreal moment and a sight which would always remain etched in the deepest abyss of our heart. With smiles and laughter, the group set out to the next destination-Phortse.
The trek was a bit monotonous with the landscape changing from bright green to shades of grey due to a steady drop in the green cover. Along with that came breathlessness coupled with the pace slowing down but with endless tales of the Everest summit by our very own Summiteer- Bharat, melted away the hours and by 4 PM we were in the small hamlet of Phortse.
The Picture Perfect
The trek to the next halt – Dingbouche hadn’t prepared us for the experience which truly mesmerised us. The unfolding of a myriad of scenes right from a green cover to a strange, desolate and almost a Martian like surrounding made this leg of the trek truly worthwhile. The beautiful peak-Ama Dablam with its perfectly symmetrical pyramidical structure was a sight which remained with us till our destination; but what truly caught our attention was the first sighting of the mighty and the formidable Mt Everest or the Sagarmatha as it is respectfully called in Nepal.
The sight left us spell bound and speechless but the awe and shock was soon replaced by the group’s enthusiasm with numerous selfies and pictures in almost all humanly angles possible. Only on the crisp orders of the trek leader Romil did we commence walking else the photo sessions would have stretched into the wee hours of the noon.
It was during the long walk when the true nature of every individual came to the fore- the young guns Garvit and Gunjan whose smiling faces and words of encouragement to everyone, even in the most trying moments kept the group’s motivation levels up and the resilience and undaunting spirit of the teens Hasvi and Rohan were worth emulating. If companionship was made in heaven, then it was truly seen between Sushil and Anupama who despite all the obstacles both physical and physiological stayed together till the very end without impinging on the group’s progress. And none of this would have been possible without our smiling Sherpas Neema Dai and Jetha Dai and the trek leaders Romil and Animesh.
Being Ready for The Rest
The two-night halt at Dengbouche gave the group the much-needed rest and the essential acclimatisation which at that altitude was absolutely necessary considering the upcoming days in the oxygen deficient atmosphere till we finally turned around and reached back at Namche.
The next leg from Dengbouche started off on an easier note with a flat approach, however the most difficult climb loomed in the not too distant-Thuk-la pass. It was here where we shuffled up an almost 45 degrees climb gasping and wheezing for breath till, we finally reached the plateau – nice hot tea at a small but desolate café and we are off to our next halt -hotel and a science facility called Pyramid as it was shaped like one. Enroute, we passed the memorial at Thuk-la which is dedicated to the fallen Everest climbers and is called as the ‘Saddest Point ‘on the trek. It was a short and terse halt to pay homage to the ‘fallen’ bringing forth the harsh reality of the unforgiving nature of the mountains and the need to respect them.
After a late lunch of hot macaroni and vegetables with tea at Labouche, we were ready to foot it to the penultimate destination – ‘The Pyramid’ before we began our final leg to the Everest Base Camp the next day. The night halt at the Pyramid facility was an experience in itself- with snow outside and the warm cosy atmosphere inside, there was an air of eagerness and excitement despite the days of trekking. The group was ready to run till EBC on pure adrenalin if it wasn’t for our responsible trek organisers who respected the exuberance but forced us to turn in early after a hearty dinner.
D-day- 11 April 2021
The day finally dawned and after a brief by our trek leader on safety and security while on the march, the eager and happy team started their final assault towards the terminus- Éverest Base Camp’. If this phase of the trek is to be summed up in one word, then it would definitely be ‘enthralling’. As we made our way to the final settlement Gorakshep before EBC we were all filled with a sense of excitement coupled with a tinge of sadness since it was bringing us to the end of some wonderful days with new friends.
As we trudged along the rocky boulders with the meandering and the majestic Everest Glacier alongside, each one immersed deep in their thoughts on the appropriate reaction to be exhibited on reaching the famous landmark-the rock which says – “EVEREST BASE CAMP 5364 m” when suddenly a cry from our Sherpa went up pointing towards a cluster of colourful tents in the near distance.
We chanced upon the first sight of the EBC while rounding a steep rocky hill and just stood staring spellbound- after days of walking, sleepless nights, symptoms of acute mountain sickness and breathlessness at every step of the way, this group had finally made it as one cohesive team. The biting cold glacial winds and the last few hundred metres of the boulder ridden rocky path did not deter this small, happy, very tired and extremely happy squad to finally negotiate the ‘Pathway to Heaven’ and touch the famous rock- and “YES -Tears did flow down and Froze on Our Cheeks”.
“You cannot choose your Battlefield; God does that for you. But you can plant a Standard, where a Standard never flew!” Everest Base Camp Trek 2021 did plant the “Tiranga” on that cold summer afternoon of 11 April 2021.