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It was one of those innocuous Facebook posts that I would have normally scrolled past, but the opportunity grabbed my attention and I immediately commented, “I’m in!”
It wasn’t until that evening, once I shared the idea with my husband, that the absurdity of the situation hit me - Trek for two weeks into the Himalayas to Everest Base Camp and be out of contact for much of the expedition? Could I actually disconnect from my life in such a way?
As the trek was scheduled to take place in six months, I figured I would have enough time to prepare or back out if necessary. But as the departure date drew near - the notion of that kind of freedom became increasingly attractive. Every time I was saddled with the never-ending responsibilities of being the organised mother, the doting wife, the dutiful daughter, the efficient business woman, the perfect housewife - I would think of the trek and what it would feel like to focus only on me for two weeks.
I finally accepted that I needed to do it. But I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to.
I wasn’t the most physically in-shape person. Although I loved the mountains, I didn’t have a regular workout routine and climbing to Base Camp is described as one of the most challenging treks one can go on. Would my body take me through? Or would I crumple into a panting, sweating mass on one of those never-ending uphill trails I had read about?
So I began a self-inflicted boot camp in which I raced through you-tube fitness videos and gave all the aunties in the colony a run for their money around the park. I declined all social invitations as I knew that even one late night or a few glasses of Malbec would dull my motivation to do squats and lunges the next morning.
As my body got stronger, I finally convinced myself that I could do it and I was going to do it. And that’s when a miraculous thing happened - all those around me changed their language from ”Are you really going to go..?” to “While you are gone…”
When the day arrived to board the flight to Kathmandu, I was raring to go andliterally ran out the door without looking back. Yes, I hugged my kids and husband and wished them luck, but I was more than ready to start climbing the tallest mountain on earth. I was excited to wake, walk, sleep, eat according to what my mind and body dictated and not based on schedules of those around me. This was something that I hadn’t done since I got married ten years ago, but something I owed to myself to do.
Upon arriving in Katmandu, I met the six other adventurers who would be joining me on our two-week trek through Nepal. We were an odd bunch and under normal circumstances maybe our paths would not have crossed - a Pakistani sister / brother duo who were both actors and entrepreneurs, a celebrity fitness trainer, an architect, a lawyer and a writer. Needless to say, by the end of the journey we had formed an unbreakable bond.
The trek itself is literally breathtaking. We started our journey by hopping onto a tiny propeller plane to Lukla Airport (known as the scariest airport in the world due to the 500 meter run way cut out of a steep mountain slope) and walked 150 kilometers over twelve days to the base of Mount Everest and back. From meandering along the DudhKosi River, onto terraced fields full of vegetables, through alpine forests, high altitude scrub lands and finally onto the Khumbu Glacier which is fed by Mount Everest herself, the journey offers spectacular vistas around every bend on the trail.
Each day was spent waking by 6AM, repacking our bags, eating a hearty breakfast and stepping out with our packs by 8AM ready to walk for eight hours. There wouldn’t be much talking - not just because of our rapidly falling oxygen levels but also because we were all lost in the beauty of the world around us, and of course the focused task of putting one leg in front of the other in the mighty mountains. By mid-day we would stop at one of the many rest houses that dot the trail and have a nutritious meal of dal-bhaatand local vegetables. Simple food that was easy to digest and would give us the sustenance to continue for another few hours.
By 4PM we would reach our lodge for the night. Known as “tea-houses” they would offer basic accommodation, shared toilets and a stove in the main living area for us to warm our weary muscles. There is no “luxury” to avail of. Everything in these lodges has been carried up on the back of a porter or yak and it’s good to have realistic expectations. Most of our group was able to deal with the basic amenities but I must admit that my gag-reflex was deployed several times on entering the shared toilets.
The food itself was quite good. As a busy tourist trail, the lodges run restaurants that offer a wide range of cuisines. But due to the difficult access, fresh fruits and vegetables are replaced by starchy staples such as potato, bread, pasta and rice. Trekkers are advised to stay away from meat and alcohol, and to stuff themselves with as many refined carbohydrates as possible. It’s the one time in your life you can carb-load and not feel guilty about it! It would be safe to say that french fries were a stable at every dinner and fried rice with chilli sauce a hot favourite.
The trek itself is one of the most beautiful treks in the world and the one question I’ve repeatedly been asked is “how hard is it?”. Well, let’s be clear, it’s hard! You are, after all, walking to one of the highest places on earth and are expected to ascend from 8000 to 18,500 feet above sea level through a series of valleys and high passes. You go down, then up, then down, then up again. Somedays the steep uphill climbs seem never ending and as the legs and lungs burn, one keeps praying for a lift on the back of a yak!
That being said, the distance travelled is manageable and each day is spent covering only eight to twelve kilometers. While that may seem easy to fitness freaks, the high altitude is a great leveler and demands that the body move slowly. The constant whirring overhead of rescue helicopters is a sobering reminder of how many trekkers fall to altitude sickness daily on the trail by charging ahead to fast and not properly acclimatising.
MAKING IT TO BASE CAMP:
The last half hour to base camp was the most challenging for me. As my feet shuffled forward and I pulled my exhausted body over giant borders, it seemed I wasn't getting any closer to the finish line. My eyes were deceiving me and what seemed to be a stone’s throw away was actually a few kilometers into the horizon. When I finally made it to the pile of rocks dotted with prayer flags, I broke out in a dance. The feeling was jubilant - I had done it! And actually, I had pretty much rocked it. I was there at the top of the world, having arrived there on my own two feet.
Of course, the moment was bitter-sweet as I couldn’t share it with my loved ones. I thought of my children and knew how proud they would be of me. I knew that my accomplishment would be an ever-present motivation for them to reach higher, to try harder and to not doubt themselves. This for me was all the validation I needed for leaving them for two weeks and the ultimate prize of standing on Mount Everest.
This journey reaffirmed the belief that I am much stronger and capable than I give myself credit for. My body, which had nourished and birthed two children had not deserted me - it had in fact rallied to the challenge and gotten stronger every day. My mind, which I often felt would get overwhelmed, became centered with each breath and stoic in its determination and self-belief.
I realised that all the challenges of being a multi-tasking mother had conditioned me to take on one of the biggest physical and mental challenges and sail through it as if I were a seasoned pro. And if somewhere along the way, I had lost faith in my capabilities, I’m now resolute in my belief that I CAN do anything I set my mind to.
I’m already training for my next trek. The sky is the limit so let’s see how high I can go this time!
DO go with a reputable guide and tour company. I went with Talisker Expeditions which keeps groups to under ten people and is led by a trained paramedic. I can’t recommend them enough (Ph: +919871379731, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org )
DO take your physical training seriously. This is a challenging trek and you must be in the best shape possible. Most people will train for a minimum of three months before hand with a focus on cardio.
DO buy the best gear (boots, sleeping bag, walking poles) you an afford - you will be in an inhospitable terrain and must be properly prepared for any extreme weather. I got most my gear from Raptor Gear, which specializes in high quality outdoor equipment. They can be reached at 011-24635552 / email@example.com
DON’T think of this as a “bucket-list” type of experience. Only go if you love the outdoors, walking and can live for fourteen days in basic conditions. It’s a long trek and there is no turning back once you join a group and commit to the expedition.
DON’T be scared! This trek is completed by kids as young as ten and grandparents in their 60s. Take your time. It’s the kind of race won by the turtle not the hare!
This feature story has been written by Vindhya Chowdhry
Vindhya is the mother of two kids and an avid nature lover. Her organic food company, Ahana Organic, grows over 50 different types of food products on its' own farm in Uttar Pradesh and exports to Europe. She lives in New Delhi but is always looking for a place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life to enjoy the beautiful natural world with her family.