Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Flirting with Mt Everest

Someone asked me what do mountains mean to me?!! Hmm…taken by surprise..!!..I never thought about what mountains mean to me; since I can relate to them, never felt the need to define. But I know why I love them, Mountains are Arrogant, Cranky, Confident, Lonely, Magnificent, have their own mind, Rude, Beautiful, Protective, Moody, Tough, Elegant, NO one can mess with them, you simply go by what they dictate. My choice of people in life is no different ;)…many of them reading this will smile in agreement.

The Trek Route: Lukla–Monjo–Namche–Deboche–Dingboche–Lobuche–Gorakshep– Everest Basecamp (EBC)–Gorakshep–Kala Pattar–Pheriche–Namche–Lukla

Number of days
: 12 days

: Ajit, Kavitha, Keyur, Shabna, Srikanth, Subbu, Maila (Guide), Adarsh +2 (Porters)

Six people one mission “to see Mt Everest form the closest distance”!!! 3 days at Katmandu domestic airport waiting to fly to Lukla in THE best the season says only one thing, “mountains have not made up their mind yet”. Many of the co-trekkers from different parts of the world had some how reached Lukla or decided to do other treks.

In the most desperate attempt on day 4, we landed up in the airport at 6 am for a 9 am flight. Looking at our sad faces but sheer determination, Agni airlines staff boarded us on a charter flight immediately, we made it to Lukla within 24 minutes.

With the enthusiasm and the thrill that we made it to Lukla, the 1st day trek to Monjo seemed like a cake walk, even thought we climbed up and down few hill and crossed over form one hill to another on the swinging bridges across Koshi, it was all picture time.

The beauty of Himalayas is that, till the tree line ends the entire landscape is lush green and covered with beds of flowers, and this trail was no different. Dudh Koshi that causes havoc in Bihar was gushing between the valleys, looked like it was in a hurry to hit Bihar once again. Like the name the water is white due to the speed at which it travels, maneuvering all the turns and twists between the hill range and on the rocks. All through the trek one thing that was running parallel with us was Koshi River and its tributaries.

Namche was a big trek, as we gained an altitude of 3440 mts, and had an extra day stop over. Namche is like a supper market in the middle of the hills, you can buy any thing you want but at a slightly higher cost. It also gives the 1st view of Mt Everest & Lhotse and tempts you to go ahead.

At Namche we heard that one of the flights crash-landed at Lukla, all the 18 people onboard died. Lukla airstrip is scary, its just 150 mts long, elevates 15-20 degrees on landing, if the pilot does not land with great precisions it’s a nosedive. The flight was carrying a German family, few Canadians and Nepalese; I was lucky to be alive and breathing even in the thin air.

As we trekked to Deboche the visibility of Mt Everest was more and more clearer, the night in a tent, which Subbu and me opted for woke me up to Mt Everest. As I stretched out from the tent, I saw the fascinating hump of Mt Everest, tiny teardrops trickled, I could not have asked for more, it was truly “dream” come true.

The weather was getting colder and had dropped to 2-5 degrees; wind got colder, stronger and wilder making it difficult to breath. The terrain was rapidly changing, the stupas, which had the Buddha eyes all through the trails so far were getting replaced with memorials for people who died or just never found. It was an indication of what is it going to be next. The landscape was darker and less green; the trail was heaps of rocks and pebbles making the trek slower. We turned into the range that had Touche to our left, Amadablam to right and Mt Everest & Lhotse ahead, which eventually crossed over to Pumori, Mt Everest and Nuptse in the front.

As we crossed over to Lobuche, Shabna decided to return. Rest of us trekked to Gorakshep on the ridges alongside Khumbu Glacier, the moraine became visible. We entered the EBC route, and could see the pinnacles and the deadly Khumbu icefall jetting out, one could only wonder how the climbers would cross over to open route to Mt Everest peak.

Moraine is an unforgiving terrain; ice below topped with debris can slide you down if you are careless. It’s exhausting; with wind blowing at a high speed and the temperature dropping, trekking after 2 pm in this terrain is a task. Many, rather most of them were returning from the ridge, but I was determined to make it to EBC by 2 pm, so was Subbu, but the rest were still not visible at that point.

Ah!!! Reaching EBC (5364 mts) was a reassurance that I still have a lot more left in me. I remembered Vishal as he would be here next year for his Mt Everest expedition, so left a message wising him good luck and safe return. The rest of group arrived, it was a perfect picture moment, I was very happy that all of us (expect Shabna) made it to EBC…..and could say loudly here after “been there done that”.

In the middle of the night I felt breathless, my lungs refused to take oxygen, I was not wiling to die in Gorakshep!! If it is, its when I attempt Kanchanjunga my 7th 8k’er ;)!! I realized that 3 layers of clothing lead to excess heat and it was choking me, I immediately got rid of a layer and started to breath easy.

After EBC the next mission was climbing Kala Pattar, it’s just a trek up, but at 5545 mts and the steepness it’s quite a climb, finally only Subbu and me decided to go. It took exactly 2 hours, loads of energy, not to let it go spirit to reach the top. Kala Pattar gives the best view of Mt Everest, and that all I wanted. Not sure what went into our heads, Subbu, Maila and me made it to Pheriche in 4 hours flat, next day the entire team was back in Namche and the following day at Lukla.

On return to Namche, Adarsh & Maila looked at me at the breakfast table and said “Didi, next time you should come only to climb Mt Everest, you are very tough”… compliment I will cherish for the rest of my life. After spending so much time with the mountains, my belief in destiny has become stronger than ever, and I know when the mountain calls nothing can stop me. So I am waiting for my DATE with Mt Everest.

- Kavitha Reddy
6th Oct – 17th Oct 08

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

“Namaste” Nepal

Area: 147181 Sq Kms

Population: 24 million

8+k Peaks: Everest, Lothse, Makalu, Cho-yo, Dhaulagiri, Manasalu, Annapurna, Kunchanjunga just in the fag end into the Indian border

Activities: Trekking, Mountaineering, Rafting, Bungee Jumping, Mountain Biking, Sky diving, Paragliding etc

Namaste”, “ Tapaai Laai Kasto Chha?” “Mo Sanchai Chha” are the first few words one gets to start with. If any one says Namaste instead of Hello, it’s for sure that he/she is a Nepali or a Mountaineer or just returned from Nepal. One not only falls in love with the mountains but also its people, language, culture, and smell of a country that has embraced modernization on its own terms.

The “Himalayan country” eats, sleeps, breaths, drinks Himalayas. Every peak is a selling point, with almost 8 of the 14 8000 mts peaks in Nepal and several 6000-7000 mts peaks mountaineering /trekking is unlimited rather never ending in Nepal.

T-shirts, Mouse pads, Fridge Magnets, Caps, Bags, Posters, Calendars, Pin-up’s, Note pads, Paintings, Photos, Bands, Badges, Playing Cards, Mugs etc carry symbols of Nepal and the Himalayas, and are sold for NC 50 – 2000. One could confidently say that the brand equity of Himalayas is unmatched to any other brand in the world.

Nepal is a paradise for shopper, artifacts, Kukries (traditional Gurkha knife), ethnic stuff, hand made ornaments, mountain wear, paintings etc etc. It’s quite inexpensive and actually cheap if you are a qualified bargainer. One important fact is that every brand in the world that manufactures anything related to mountaineering or adventure can be seen in Nepal, you will find both the original make and the “Made in China” under the same brand name. So if you are looking for real stuff check the “Made in” tag, there are also few possibilities of “Export” quality made in China stuff and you can make out the difference most of the times.

You look around from Thamel Circle it feels like a mini-world, people from all nationalities walking around freely as if they have been there forever. Travel junkies, Nature admirers, Photographers, Travel Writers, Honeymooners, Holidayers, Pilgrims, Mountaineers, Trekking enthusiasts all at the same time and the same place is simply overwhelming. Each one has come with a different reason but will leave Nepal with once in a lifetime experience (Good one).

Some come back searching for more and more and keep following the old lanes that looks new always, that has not lost its past glory or the rustic looks. Nepal is a land where both the worlds meet without intimidating or challenging each other, the two worlds seem to have made peace forever and let the country flourish with a free mind, body and soul.

One would leave Nepal saying “ Dhanyabaad, Malaai Nepal man parchha….Pheri veethaula.”

- Kavitha Reddy, 3rd Oct 08

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Great Indian Train

The stench of the urinals welcomed on-board of S4 compartment of Karnataka Express. CR could not take it even for a minute that I was traveling by train to Delhi. He was trying to convince me that I should ditch the Train and fly the following day.

I asked him to leave even before the train left fearing that he will force me till the last minute to take the flight, but he refused saying that he will give send me off like the way Shahrukh does to Kajol in KKHA, ah..ah.. how romantic!!!

To my delight the stinking toilets were getting cleaned and it was smelling better..if I may say that. The platform was filled with people of all shapes, color, size, religion age and culture. For a minute, I wondered how fearlessly they traveled in such large numbers with all the terrorist threats and blasts in the recent days. I remembered Godhra, as I saw the train there was a hesitation, but looking at people who seem to be less cared about what could happen or may happen or never happen I felt free and boarded the train.

Indian railways are as mighty as the Indian middle class; the contrast of real India v/s an aspiring India can be simply explained as Train v/s Flight.

The mighty middle class bares the brunt of it all; with pro-poor and pro-rich policies the middle class is forgotten conveniently at all times. The lower-middle class do not get the benefits of pro-poor reforms and the upper-middle class cannot “afford opportunities” of the rich.

Rahul Gandhi on the floor of the house spoke about a poor lady from Maharastra, Mamatha Banarjee is up against one of the richest man in India, and millions of middle-class are left for RK Narayan!!!…the common man….

No lower-middle class citizen wants to be called poor; the upper-middle class wants to be rich, this is the “class” that can question and think but does not have a voice, hence gets pulled between “compassionate terms” of poor and the “unfair terms” for being rich.

Anyway, as the train started moving the passengers settled down, since it was a late evening train very soon I could see people taking out the home packed food, the dinner table J almost had all kinds of conversations. We had a Fuji who had a RAC ticket and was waiting to get a seat allotted, TT had very little respect for the man who has been called to guard the country mid-way of his leave!! He was carrying a warrant (it’s a letter issued by concerned regiment/ army HO to report to duty), as per rules seat should be allotted on priority in such cases, but little did the TT care.

Early morning the train was passing through Maharastra, Pakni junction was when I was completely awake and watched the birds flying across the vast cultivate fields. I was trying to identify the birds and suddenly wondered why storks were flapping in the air at the same place, without realizing I am on a moving train. Its so true, many times in life, we do not realize that we are at a higher induced speed due to better opportunities or pure luck and have little respect for those who are not keeping to our pace. Suddenly I spotted blackbucks running across the fields……and few peacocks.

When I pulled myself out of the sleeping bag, passengers around wondered what the hell was it and were quite glad to see it; I wasted no time in explaining the usage of it.

One more full day and a night to go to reach Delhi, I was not really keen on the time anyways. As stationed passed I remembered my last travel on the same train 16 years ago…for the Republic Day Camp as an NCC cadet, quite a time since I traveled on a train. I sensed that I had lost in touch with the real people and real India, at some point almost felt like a foreigner in my own country.

People around were all talking and getting to know each other, the Fuji had still not got his seat, he asked for the newspaper I was reading and within minutes we started talking, I asked him which regiment he belonged and where was he posted….he looked at me with surprised smile and almost stood-up, asking me if I was from the army too, refusing to take no as an answer….I had to show him my entire wallet, and that I had no document that anywhere states that I am from the army. He was still not convinced; his convection was that no civilian could ask such appropriate questions. My eyes went moist for a second, would have been happy to be called “Maj Kavitha Reddy”, life is a bitch!!!! I thought…but….that what it is for me.

There was a calmness traveling on a train, the large green fields, and the changing landscape from state to state felt like actual divisions. Karnataka has large boulders and mass hills where as Maharastra had pinnacles and layered peaks giving sandstone kind of a feel. As the train entered Madhya Pradesh, stones almost turned to heaps of red soil, and barren miles of rocky ducts. MP once upon a time was famous for the dacoits, and even trains were not spared, but that was long long ago.

It was very interesting to hear people talking about many things I would generally not care about. One among the passengers was a pakka Tamilian woman now staying in Faridabad with her husband, her Hindi was so Tamil and she was talking about the various festivals and the reason behind each one of them. Couple of college kid who were in the next compartment rushed to check if their mother was ok, they were talking about the college and the fun they have which I guess was the same when I was in college too. One of them realized that I was carrying a book “Shantaram”, he asked me why the foreigners make India look so ugly? And as Indians we should stop buying or reading those books. I was quite glad about the thought he had, I told him that whatever the foreigner talk, think and write etc about India, its important to remember that they simply cannot ignore India. That led to a long conversation about our country, war with Pakistan, Cricket, Kashmir, America, Bush and the rest of the ingredients till their mother forced them out to let me sleep.

Morning got warmer and Delhi approached really quick, with 40 hours of travel I still felt fresh and there was a sense of happiness that I did what I always wanted to, travel simple and see real Indians.

- Kavitha Reddy

29th Sept 08