In the way to infinity: At the pinnacle of the Everest

Dipankar Ghosh

Photographs: Author
Category: Expedition, Climbing, Mountaineering
Date of Publication: Mar 15 , 2015Vol-03 Issue-02

It was such a serene sight to see Lamaji worshiping but in front him there was no Buddhist idol, instead it was Thakur, Ma and Swamiji's portrait. Lamaji is uttering mantras from Buddhist Scriptures "Tripitaka" to worship them. May be it was an unusual sight but somewhere deep inside the soul was saying that "what's happening is right". It was 17th April, 2011- Everest Base Camp. Standing atop the Everest pinnacle at this altitude a soul can communicate with the high mountains of the Himalayas and the valleys within feeling the marvel of nature and its creation every second. The temple itself was standing on a huge glacier- ready to collapse at any moment at the slightest deviation of nature. But I believe some unnatural force was protecting it, keeping the mountains submissive and tranquil.

Let's go few years earlier. It was 2006. A mountaineering club in Kolkata was organizing for an Everest expedition. Selective mountaineers were shortlisted from all over West Bengal. However, at the end moment, the trip got cancelled due to several reasons. I wasn't disappointed at all. Instead, I was determined that somehow I will make it happen in the next five years. Three years passed away rapidly. After making several attempts I could not arrange for the trip mainly due to financial crisis. At present, it takes 15 lakhs per head for such trips. The words of Swami Vivekananda kept echoing in my heart - "Every time you fail to reach your aim, you die once." I truly admire him as my Gurudev. He is the source of my inspiration. Time and again his words kept knocking my soul - "Future takes birth from the womb of Past". It helped me to keep my dream of conquering Everest alive. I knew that I would make it - someday, somehow.

Gorakshep

Year 2010. And as "Guru Ji" said - if next year I cannot make it, mentally I will die once. With each passing day I got more and more restless and desperate to arrange the funds for the Everest expedition. At times I got so agitated that for once I even considered selling my organs. At last my prayers were heard and that year in August, my old friends Somya, Manav and Goutam encouraged us: "We are with you; you will definitely make it for the trip". Their good wishes worked. Finally, the "Everest Adventure 2011" was organized by the joint initiative of two clubs "Bhadrakali Padatik" and Srirampur's "Angan chariye". Many admirers, friends, elders, relatives and children (who attained the nature training camp with us) were the driving force of this adventure trip. Later on, my friend Rajiv Bhattacharya joined the adventure trip as a member. Thus it was finalized - me and Rajiv are making this trip.

To make a trip to the mighty Everest is not a child's play. There are many aspects to consider - finance, physical capacity, mental determination, Intelligence, estimation and above all the urge of touching the mountain peak by ignoring the fear of death and various natural calamities. As a group leader I was responsible to take the right decision at the right moment, but it never felt like an extra burden to me as I was a follower of Sri Ramakrishna and a keen believer in the ideologies of Swamiji. That's why I always remember his saying "Don't get afraid with the small beginning of a job, from small only it becomes large. Make your courage your support. Don't tend to be a leader, just serve. The brutal trends of leadership have drowned many big ships in the ocean of life. So be more careful about it, even neglect death to keep serving selflessly."

Khumbu Glacier (Glacier Pond)

Even before initiating our venture, a mammoth task of preparing for the expedition remains before us. Many arrangements were to be made to even touch the highest point of the earth - the nearest place to infinity. 1st April has been decided as the D-day.

In between, I received the shock of losing my father on 15th January. My mother was shattered and frightened. At one end, she has lost her husband and on the other end her son is going to embark one the most hazardous journey on earth. I reassured my mother yet again by uttering the words of Swamiji, "we all are moving towards the bigger truth from the small truth. Just like mountaineering, after climbing a smaller mountain attempting the huge one. Life is all about moving forward without stopping, who cannot adapt new thinking, is inanimate; a river that can't flow is stream less. One must keep trying to gain what is best and helpful for others until he gets it."

1st April, 2011 - We left from Kolkata with the blessings of our well-wishers. That day we reached Kathmandu via Delhi. We stayed at Kathmandu for three days to finish all the work there and then on 4th April a small flight took us to the Lukla airport for the Everest Base Camp. It is a very beautiful place. We have to trek from Lukla to the Base camp. It took us eight days to reach the base camp. Meanwhile, we have stopped in places like Manjo, Namche Bazar, Debuche, Dingboche, Thukla, Lobuche etc. for the night. After eight days, on 12th April , 2011, we finally reached the Everest Base camp situated at the altitude of 17600 feet. The base camp is placed on Khumbu Glacier. People from all over the world come here in their hope to travel to infinity.

Camp I to Camp II

The main adventure starts here. We spent the first few days at the base camp taking rest and adapting our body with the high altitudes for acclimatization - a process in which an individual's body adjusts to a gradual change in its environment (such as a change in temperature, humidity, altitude), allowing it to maintain performance across a range of environmental conditions. Lamaji walked for four days to get to the base camp and made a temple on the glacier in between the milky white mountains. In this temple are the portraits of Thakur, Ma and Swamiji. Lamaji worships them with great devotion by uttering Tibetan mantra and playing Dangra (a Tibetan musical instrument). It is a great feeling to hear him.

For few days, we practiced the technical things on Khumbu Glacier. On 22nd morning at 4 o' clock we started for the 1st Everest Base Camp. Temperature was - 20°C. I, Rajiv, Karma, Purva climbed the glacier with head torch light. Karma and Purva are the Sherpas who would climb with us. Buddhi and Santosh is our cook. Conquering the Everest is possible with team work only. Otherwise it is very difficult for one or two person to carry the huge luggage to the top and that too at this altitude. We need to climb another three camps from the first base camp in order to win the Everest. The 1st one is located at the altitude of 20000 feet, 2nd one is at the altitude of 22000 feet, 3rd one is at the west slope of one of the fourth highest peak of the earth, Mt. Lhotse at the altitude of 24000 feet and the 4th and final one is at the altitude of 26000 feet. Thereafter starts the ultimate adventure of conquering the pinnacle.

Hillary step south summit & Lhotse

Today's climbing route was actually terribly beautiful. To enjoy its beauty one must confront face to face with danger. To win something one has to struggle devotedly, but today the matter was little different. We were moving through the Khumbu icefall wearing climbing boots (covering up to knee) and crampon (traction device used to improve mobility on snow and ice during ice climbing) making a typical sound with the ice beneath. Sometime climbing upward, sometimes getting down by slope of ice. To move ahead we had to cross a deep crevasse of two solid vertical ice-walls by making a bridge of ladders. Five ladders were placed diagonally to make the cross-over. It was a very risky manoeuvre. A little slip meant kiss with death. At one point the entire landscape looked terribly beautiful, calm and serene, and at another point, juxtaposed with fragility of the nature, it looked vulnerable, ready to collapse at any moment. In between this game of creation and destruction we were moving ahead playing each step with life and death. After trekking for continuous 7 hours we reached the 2nd Base Camp.

There were comparatively less ice slopes in the trail route to the 2nd Base Camp but the number of cracks and crevasses were many making the path dangerous and risky. Next morning, we trekked back to the 1st Base Camp. On 30th April, we trekked again to the 2nd Base camp. That day, due to the bad weather it took us nine hours to reach there. For the next two days we remained inside the tents. On 3rd morning of May, we started for the 3rd Everest Base Camp. We were ascending the height of 24000 feet without any oxygen cylinder. Apart from the Sherpas, all of us were having great difficulty in breathing as we gained altitude. Just three days back one of the climbers died due to lack of oxygen. For the first time we realized the physiological differences in the body between the people of the mountains and people of the plains. They climbed the mighty Himalayas as naturally as we would walk a straight lane down in the plains. After all, it is their home. After six hours of continuous trekking we reached the 3rd Base camp. Inside the tent we didn't feel the deficiency of oxygen. However, we were intermittently using the oxygen mask to keep ourselves strong. The tent was fixed on 20° slope of ice and any change of weather or an avalanche would devour it any time. Next day we returned to the 2nd camp and on the very next we returned to the 1st base camp. The acclimatization part ends here. Now, after returning to the 1st base camp the only things we need to do is have good food, a bit of walking and practice and gain proper mental and physical strength for the rigorous journey ahead.

Towards Everest summit

10 May, 2011- We started for our final journey. After reaching the 2nd base camp on that day we took a break for the next day. On 12 May, we started for the 3rd Base Camp early on dawn. While climbing an ice wall, at around 8 am we were confronted by tremendous snow storm and thunder. For an hour, Rajiv, me and Karma were swinging like a pendulum flimsily hung on a rope fixed on jumar oscillating in between life and death. At that moment we realized our insignificance in front of mighty nature. That night our tents were shaking like a fragile leaf in the wind. Next day, we ventured for the 4th and final base camp but after attaining the height of 25000 feet we had to come back as the wind was too strong at the speed of 200 km per hour. With no improvement in the weather we had to further descend to the 2nd base camp and on 15 May we returned to the 1st base camp. Many climbers would go back in this situation but I got immense inspiration from my mother over the phone, then friends, well-wishers and kids of the camp inspired us to go ahead. "You won't return, you have to do it". Meanwhile, we got news that one Nepali climber has died in our base camp. We prayed for his soul. I remembered Swamiji's words yet again, "take up one idea. Make that idea your life-think of it, dream of it, and live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success". So my mind was saying- "YOU MUST DO IT".

18th May, 2011- We left for the 2nd base camp. On 20th May we reached the 4th base camp. Our initial plan was to start for the Everest pinnacle on the same day. However, due to sudden thunder storm at around 2 pm we had to cancel the plan. Just few days back, on 12th of May, a Japanese climber died on 3rd base camp because of bad weather and altitude sickness. So though our hearts were extremely restless to touch the pinnacle and realize our dream our brains said us that it would not be a wise decision to do so. Remembering Swamiji and his words, we waited patiently. At night, four of us were standing outside our tents, trying to comprehend the situation. Temperature was bone chilling -40° C. It was only after nine at night that the wind speed decreased and weather was gradually getting moderate.

Hillary step

Next morning, early on dawn we finally took the hard decision to leave for the pinnacle no matter what. Under the red sky we ascended the South col with two oxygen cylinders and our luggage. After climbing a short bit, we took a break to have hot juice and regain strength. By eight in the morning we were at the "Hillary Step". A narrow ridge separated it and a fall from there would directly take us to the abyss of 8000 feet down. No words would be ever sufficient to describe the beauty we were witnessing. Only a few eyes would ever see it. Numerous named and unnamed peaks stood in front of us like a crown. At one end was the Tibetan plateau and other end was the mountains of Nepal as far as the eyes goes. Our dream was right in front of us- the highest point of the world- Mt. Everest. As weather would change any moment at this point, without wasting much time we crossed the "Hillary Step" and then a steep slope of ice to reach the pinnacle.

At last, on 21 May, 2011 at 10:33 am we were standing at world's highest peak- Mt. Everest. Hereafter, there was no ice, no soil, and no stone - only endless sky. I was missing my mother and late father. And at the same time, was visualizing the faces of those people who stood as constant inspiration, who said "YOU CAN DO IT". This was the only place in the world with no boundaries. We worshiped "Thakur", "MA" and "Swami Ji" keeping their photographs on the snow. They are the people of infinity so looking at them in front of the infinity is altogether a different feeling and emotion. The dream has been finally realized.

Top of Everest

As a mountaineer, I always wondered why Everest charms us so much. It might be perhaps because once it was under the Tethys Sea, without any existence and now it stands as the world's highest peak standing from nothing to infinite. Yet again, I remembered Swamiji's words- "The moment you fear you are nobody, it is fear that is the great cause of misery in the world. It is fear that is the greatest of all superstations, it is fear that is the cause of our woes and, it is fearless that brings heaven even in a moment." Therefore, "Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached."

We returned home safely on 31st May, 2011. My mother passed away on 28th June. Sometimes, I feel that she has gone to the infinity to tell this story to my late father.

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