It was getting dark outside. I had just completed a 25 kilometer trek down the Himalayas for the day and was resting at Hotel White Yak in Perische, along the Everest trail. The Everest trail is fascinating. Picture perfect vibrant landscapes, potpourri of spectacular shades of green, white and brown in lush pristine alpine forests and high valleys, and the rhyme and rhythm of rushing streams and rapids makes one instantly fall in love with the Himalayan ranges. But the altitude and weather demands respect. Two of my friends in the team had to be rescued by a helicopter in the morning owing to ‘altitude sickness’. Another two got injured and were making their way to the hotel / teahouse slowly, where I waited for them.
As darkness grew and my body started to cool down, the teahouse started to feel cold. The host brought me a cup of black tea and refilled my water bottle. Without caring to dissolve aqua tabs in the water, I gulped down almost half a liter in a go. While the weariness was bearing on me, the Himalayan water was also perhaps growing into me!
As I sat sipping the tea, I saw an old white man sitting quietly in a corner table, holding the tea cup with both his hands. He tried to absorb as much heat as possible from the cup of tea. His shoulders shrugged down, he shifted very slowly in his chair and occasionally raised his face, staring at the mountains outside the window. White clouds were playing hide and seek with the mountains. But sometimes the mountains managed to get out of the shadow of the clouds and shine bright in the sunlight. Those were the moments when the mountains looked most beautiful.
Perische Valley (Picture Credit: Dr. Chetan Sharma)
The host sensed the tiredness and proceeded to light the fireplace before the scheduled time. I was getting used to the exceptional hospitality in the highlands, but here the welcome extended by our Sherpa host was beyond words. The old man immediately moved near the central fire chamber. I moved close to the fire as well, to warm myself, but also because his solitude intrigued me. Had remorse brought him to seers or was he seeking divine intervention like Dr. Strange?
As I took the seat beside him, I saw him looking at the picture of a truck in an auto magazine. My approach seemed to disturb his study and the magazine fell from his hand.
“Sorry Sir, let me get that for you.”
“Thank you, young man! Where do you come from?” he said as he closed the magazine that I had just handed over to him.
It was the most amazing voice I had heard in a long time. It was caring, like an angel, benevolent and sympathetic like a father.
“I am from India and I am on my way down from the Everest Base Camp.”
“Ohh, wow. Congratulations! Your folks back home must be very proud.”
“Yes, Sir. They are happy to know I am coming back.”
“Sir, I see you have trekking shoes on. Did you also go to Everest Base Camp?”
“Yes. I was there.”
“Did you go to Kala Patthar as well?”
“Yes, I was there in March.”
“In March?” I screamed in my mind. This was the month of May. ‘What is this guy doing here since March? Is he all right?’
“It must have been very different in March there, Sir,” I said.
“Yes, it was snow covered. Very cold but very beautiful. Mesmerizing.”
“Why did you choose to come here in March then, Sir?”
“Ohh, call me Nick.”
“They asked me to come here in March so that I could acclimatize myself for the Everest climb.”
“OK. So did you climb Everest?”
“Yes, I did.”
That was it. I had finally met someone who has been there, done that!
Rohit (L), Sachet, Chetan and Ravi with Nick (with the cap)
As his layers started to unravel, his glow shone brighter than the fire burning there. My tiredness vanished in the warmth of his humility that inspired me to aim higher. The more I learnt about his story over the next five hours, the more impressed I became.
Nick is a fisherman from New Zealand. He was always interested in trekking, but had never climbed so high. He had saved for the trip before, but could not come. His brother was diagnosed with cancer and died two years ago. Subsequently, he was also diagnosed with the same disease. Treatment helped in arresting the growth of cancer. However doctors had said it may reoccur again.
But he was clear that cancer was not the only thing he wanted to conquer. Mt. Everest was next in line. The determination of a cancer survivor helped keep his persistence high when the remaining seven climbers in his group started dropping out. He developed serious doubts when he caught a bad cough that would not go away. He came downhill to get rid of it, but decided to live with the cough when it did not go away.
Nick was the only one in his group of eight who managed to climb the Everest summit. His only companion was his determination and a four-year-old auto magazine. His finances were modest, but his resolve was like granite. That day, I learnt a lot of lessons. Humility and perseverance were two of them.
The day kept getting better and better.
I met the guide, who accompanied Nick then. Dorje Dawa Sherpa had climbed the Everest summit five times! He had a tummy, walked with a limp and had a face tanned black from repeated exposure to high altitude sunlight and UV rays.
Ravi (L), Sachet, Rohit and Chetan with Dorje Sherpa (in red)
Suddenly I remembered the small group of Sherpas, faces tanned black due to repeated exposure to high altitude sun and UV rays, rushing downhill, singing Indian Bollywood songs, chirping and cracking jokes. They had scaled heights in life – real achievers who would guide anyone who came to them.
Dorje Sherpa, like his friend Nick, is very humble and down-to-earth. Talking to him was almost childlike easy. As Nick said, “Don’t read a book by its cover. He has very strong legs and muscles, but more importantly he is stronger inside.”
“How did you find the strength and inspiration to climb Mt. Everest five times?” I asked Dorje.
“It’s all inside you,” Dorje said with a smile.
I fell in love with that smile. In Kung Fu Panda style, ‘I could smell the stink of awesomeness!’
After darkness comes the light. The sun shone very bright the next morning. It was probably the best day of my life.
We had a very sound sleep that night. All tiredness had vanished and we all woke up refreshed.
Everyone was raring to answer the call of Mt. Everest. But alas, our guide said we had to go as per our plan!
It was the day of the festival. The day Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary had climbed Mt. Everest for the first time in 1953. The Everest Marathon was organised on that date to commemorate the feat. Namche Bazar, the finishing point, was all decorated to welcome the runners and adventurers of the Himalayas with a cultural festival, traditional song and dance.
I was looking forward to another evening to be amazed!
‘It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.’
– Sir Edmund Hillary