Monday, May 29, 2006

Turned back at 6128m (20105 ft) ASL..

29th May 2006.

In 1953, on this very day, one of the most famous mountaineering feats was achieved: Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay summitted the tallest peak, Mt. Qomolangma (Everest) for the first time ever.

On this day in 2006, we achieved our best in trekking till date. The trio of Shantanu Gogate, Anup Mathkar and Aniket Anikhindi (myself), who were on a mission to Mt. Qomolangma Advanced Base Camp, reached a height of 6128 metres (20105 feet) ASL, as per a GPS receiving device. Our Sherpa claimed the altitude to be 6200 metres ASL, but then we have been noting the altitude statistics from the GPS receiver and preferred to stay with that reading for consistency sake.

LtoR: Shantanu Gogate, Anup Mathkar, Aniket Anikhindi
Waving the Hindu 'Bhagwa' flag and the Indian tricolour
6128m ASL on Mt. Qomolangma (Everest) on 29 May 2006

The target we had set out for, was Advanced Base Camp (Camp 3) on the North Face, lies at around 6340m. While we were going strong on what was our 'summit' day, it was time which forced us to turn back from our strong march. An estimated 90 minutes and 200 vertical metres short of our target, it was a wise thing to turn back, because we had already traversed a huge distance, had gained over 500 metres of altitude, and required enough strength to return to the safety of our campsite.

We feel sad to have fallen short of our target for a logistical failure than anything else. While we were supposed to have camped the earlier night at Camp II (5970m), our yak herders refused to camp higher than Intermediate Camp (5710m). For reasons that are still left open for speculation. Camping at Camp II (5970m) was easily possible that day, walking from Camp II to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) and returning to Camp II (5970m) was the feasible approach, than trying a dare devil stunt that we gave up on (an attempt from 5710m to 6340m and back, which would have been close to 20 kms or more). It taught us a lot I'd say, these are the type of things that you come across on Everest or other mountaineering expeditions, and if you are on an all important mission, you should be ready to combat these or have alternatives ready. If only we'd have known earlier.. There is lot to follow about what we faced on the trek in later posts. It's best not to claim this post's space for that.

Luckily for us, no one suffered from any type of altitude sickness or any other type of physical problems, which would have put us in a dangerous situation. Our acclimatisation on our way to the destination had been so wonderful, that we could have really gone on to make a summit bid (okay I guess that categorises as a hyperbole).

It feels excellent to have crossed the 6000m mark, and the 20000 ft barrier as well. Certainly would make an impressive reading on our climbing resumes :) More than that, it gives a lot of confidence of survival at higher altitudes and cold weather conditions. At the same time, I must specify here that we had got an excellent weather window all through the trek, it possibly couldn't have been better. That helps a great deal.

All in all, it was a supreme effort, one worth remembering for an entire lifetime: Being a trekker I know for sure that any later expedition does not really take away anything from previous ones. There are many pictures, video clips and experiences to share, which will follow in subsequent posts on the blog (which will be maintained in a chronological order but for this post - so this will be a 'flashback' blog).

Many of my friends have been asking me this question: "So after all, do you think this trek was really worth the money that you spent?" [Despite lack of sponsorship, I ended up spending around 175,000 INR on this 3 week trek]. And I can vouch on behalf of all 3 of us that this was a priceless deal, not worth being compared to a monetary sum per se. After all, you cannot compare trekking up to Mt. Everest, and then walking on the East Rongbuk Glacier for 4 days and sleeping on the flanks of Mt. Everest for 3 nights, can you? I bet many trekkers would accept the package deal: 4 days and 3 nights on Mt. Everest (North Face): INR 175,000 (free offer of 4 days of trekking to Base Camp, coupled with 3 nights stay at Base Camp). Wow, I ought to set up shop :)

So, till I post more, take care and enjoy! The photos and video clips are going through rounds of scans to pick out the best ones for the blog, and we'll be cutting DVD's for those interested in the entire lot. So long, Qomolangma! I'd like to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator: "I'll be back.." :)

Being here at home, 554m ASL, I feel there is too much oxygen around. I might just end up suffering from the problems of excess oxygen (having adjusted so well to less oxygen up there), and might need to use a suffocator mask. The number of red blood corpuscles would still be high from the acclimatisation process, and people are saying I've lost weight, I need to check how much. But myself and the other 2 are recovering (from overall fatigue), we're pampering ourselves these days, till we sort of get back to where we were..

(Below) Aniket smiling away at Kathmandu

From my home in Pune (India),
Aniket "Nike" Anikhindi

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Setting foot on Mt. Everest - what made me think of this?

In reply to the question posed in title of this post, I'd have loved to give a reply "Because it's there..", but as fellow trekkers would be knowing it well, George Leigh Mallory gave this classical reply way back in 1924 (the question was the same). Since then it has been quoted so often that it can safely be categorised as a cliche.

For me, Himalayas since long have been a necessity more than a wish. The fall of 2004 (November) was one unforgettable experience, one that endorsed the fact that trekking (more so in the Himalayas) is by far the most important aim in my life. And it wasn't the beginning of a dream, but in fact it was a journey aptly titled as Inching Closer to Reality.

After successfully reaching the base of Sagarmatha (Nepalese for Mount Everest) in November 2004, from the South Face (via Nepal), the seed was sown. It was going to be just a matter of time till I would get a chance to return to the tallest mountain, the overwhelming mass of which simply leaves me gaping in awe. In Fall 2004, as per our plan, we were scheduled to cover two things: [a] Trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp (EBC) and [b] Summitting Kala Patthar, a 5545 metre peak which provides some magnificient views of Everest. We were successful in going to EBC. The day after that, we were to summit Kala Patthar, but we did not get a good weather window, and we were forced to retreat.

Sometimes things that remain incomplete due to circumstances not in our control, end up inspiring us to do better. While making plans for the Spring 2006 trek, I was insistent that we must return to summit Kala Patthar to complete the aborted mission. While doing so, we had planned to summit another peak named Gokyo Ri, not too far away from the trail. This planning had happened towards the end of 2005.

Some days later, word spread that Gautam Patil was on his way to being the first Indian to climb all 7 summits, the tallest peaks in each continent, Everest being the last, to be attempted in Spring 2006. I just presumed that he would be attempting from South Face, and under that presumption, I shot off an email to him saying that our paths could probably cross, being the same time period, and I showed interest in helping his mission - it was named Everest Peace Project. In the snippet below, you'll find Gautam Patil's reply to the email that I had sent to him, asking if I could join on the trek to Everest Base Camp (under the presumption that he too would be attempting the South Face route).

---------- Gautam's email reply to me, start ----------

Hi Aniket,

Thanks so much for writing me! I applaud your interest in hiking in the Himalayas and hope our paths cross in the near future.....

As it turns out, I have signed up with the Everest Peace Project and am going through the North Side. You may be familiar with our website which we try to update now and then :) It is at and should have more information on that. A few friends want to go with me on the North Side but as you know its more of a Manali-Leh type journey - mainly driving. However, a tourist can go as high as Advanced Base Camp on the North Side and that could be attractive to those who are ....well.... fit.

Keep me posted on your adventures.

Climb High!!


---------- Gautam's email reply to me, end ----------

This reply inspired me a lot, and the impulsive nerve immediately struck. I made a proposal to Anup, my trek buddy. Destination: Qomolangma Camp III (Advanced Base Camp, North Face), situated at an altitude of 6400 metres (21120 feet) ASL.

Qomolangma from Base Camp, North Face, Tibet

We are all set to depart on 15th May 2006. Before I leave for highest trek in the world, I hope to share with you how events unfolded between the day I dreamt of this trek till the course was all set for it to be a reality. In one sentence, I can say that I felt like riding on a sine wave all through this time. Lucky that Anup, Shantanu and I (the Qomolangma Camp III [ABC] expedition team) held tight while riding on the sine wave. It was very easily possible for us to have let go at any stage, but at the risk of sounding proud, I must say that perseverance pays off in the long run. Many thanks to Gautam, you have been the factor that set me on course to the highest trek in the world!

To end this post, I'd like to use the quote Gautam uses as the final line in his emails or articles.

Climb High!

For all those who might be still wondering (or unaware of) what Qomolangma is, read this.

Some acronyms that might be of help for those novice to trekking/mountaineering:

ASL = Above Sea Level
EBC = Everest Base Camp
ABC = Advanced Base Camp (Camp III, North Face of Everest, Tibet).
Altitude: 6400 metres/21120 feet ASL

Drawing first blood..

The period between February end till mid April, will be counted as the most crucial or high endurance time period I have ever faced. It was a time frame that kept on throwing back one question to us "Here is a new problem, how do you get past this?". To see my impulsive idea take the shape of reality, it took two warriors (later on well supported by a third one) battle various odds to get the first smell of victory.

Impulsive idea: Trekking to Qomolangma Camp III (Adv. Base Camp)

Problems in achieving:
  • Team size for the expedition, with initial information, couldn't be as low as 2 (barring me, only Anup had subscribed to the idea). Convincing more people to join in was a challenge. The expedition being a high altitude, high cost, high risk affair, not too many would opt for it. And if someone did, it was utmost important to check the trekking resume of the person to ensure a successful mission.
  • Setting up an itinerary was not an easy task given the fact that driving to Base Camp was the only option provided by all trek organisers in Tibet.
  • Trekking in Tibet was a totally different ball game as compared to trekking in Nepal. We had been-there-done-that in Nepal, and knew a lot of ways to get it done in Nepal. Tibet brought along with it a ton of questions.
  • Expedition cost per person was an amount much higher than what we could arrange for, as individuals, without appropriate funding.
  • If we would have to arrange for the funds ourselves, we would be denting our financial situation in a considerable manner, leaving us in a precarious position till we would recover later.
With all of the above to address, we (Anup and I) maintained a firm stand - Destination Qomolangma, come what may. About arranging for finances, we kept on debating how would it be like to land up in a situation with no one funding us. We decided to address that later.

The next issue to address was building a strong team. We had luckily trekked enough in the winter season. It was important to search amongst known ones, those who were the fittest and would be willing to join the expedition. Abhijit Karmarkar was one name that immediately struck both me and Anup. Abhijit had been to Everest Base Camp (South Face) in 2005, was an avid trekker, and a fitness freak to say the least. It was sad to know that friends from our core trekking group (Vinod Sairaman - yet another EBC mate, Amit Kasture - Sahyadri champ) wouldn't be able to join.

I had recently been acquainted with Shantanu Gogate, someone who was in the same school (but in a different time shift) as I was. Shantanu had trekked previously in the Himalayas, and otherwise too was very fit. I categorically remember, it took me enough time, many emails and one animated meeting to convince Shatanu that trekking to Qomolangma Camp III was an opportunity not to be squandered. Making him buy the idea of trekking to Qomolangma Camp III instead of the existing plan of trekking to Everest Base Camp (South Face) was one hell of a job. Mr. Gogate signed on, after due deliberation (a sensible thing).

Tibetan trek organisers hardly seemed to have presence on the web. All the treks in Tibet are managed by Tibetan locals, but Nepalese travel agents are the interfaces with whom a client (customer) interacts. On the trek to Everest Base Camp (South Face, Nepal) in November 2004, the trek organiser with whom we had operated was Gurkha Encounters Pvt. Ltd, managed by one Mr. Rajendra Bajgain (we refer to him as Raj).

Raj was very pleased to hear from us and promised that he would most certainly be glad to help us achieve our dream. We were expecting a lot from him. Not that we could strike a good deal (as far as price was concerned), but from our past experience, trust made a lot of difference and good service was something more important here. The factor that was most dear to our heart, being able to trek up to Everest Base Camp and not drive, was also taken care of by Raj. He had given us an itinerary that was custom cut to our requirements.

Over the month of March, all issues were resolved, barring a very important one - arrangement of funds. It was decided amongst us that we should try our level best to secure funds by mid April. We had a certain watermark we had set as the maximum we could afford by ourselves. Rest of it had to come from funds. While this was committed to, I was more than willing to stretch the date just because the impulse, the dream had put me beyond standard limits of rationales. Same was true with Anup. I knew this because I and Anup have been close buddies for quite some time now. It was Shantanu about whom we were not too sure, plainly because we weren't knowing him too well if he would bow down to the dream in case no one would fund us.

The second week of April proved to be the turning point in the entire game. I would still rate it as the biggest breakthrough that converted the trek status from "dream" to a "likelihood". Shantanu was able to secure funds to cover part of his amount, a big boost to him as well as us. There was no stopping us now..

There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and lip

The two Himalayan expeditions I had been to in the years of 1995 and 1997 involved some 30 odd people each. They were organised by well known trekking institutes in India, and members on the expedition had a simple task at hand - following the instructions. When it comes to organising things oneself, planning for details, taking care of logistics, having contingency plans - it is a different ball game altogether.

My trek to Everest Base Camp (South Face, Nepal) was one such instance. I, along with Anup, did the required research for what it would take for us to get to the base of Mount Everest. Luckily for us, we had a few friends who had been there, which I must say helps tremendously. Yes, there are things that we had to do ourselves, yes we did get to learn a lot of things. But frankly speaking, having a group of friends share their first hand experiences - especially the tricks of the trade, the dos and the donts, and most importantly their failures, is what makes the job of planning a huge load simpler. I couldn't help giving an analogy in terms of software engineering. It's like the design part of it already being done, with just the implementation part pending.

Sunset at Mt. Everest Camp III (Advanced Base Camp).
Altitude: 6400m / 21000+ ft ASL

The dream trek to Everest Camp III (Advanced Base) from North Face, Tibet, brought along with it a lot of questions. None in our friends circle, nor in any wider reachable group had done this trek. With the challenges we had to face in order to be assured of departure along with a concrete plan in hand, was a classic learning curve. Optimism being the name of the game.

It all started in the month of March, along side the flurry of events described in the post Drawing first blood. The task at hand: Hunting for a trek organiser who operated in Tibet, who would help is in arranging the 'highest trek in the world'. This superlative kept on giving us adrenaline rushes from time to time. Good times.

We started shooting off emails to various trekking agencies based in Nepal, Australia, New Zealand, USA, asking them the standard pattern of questions:
  • Approximate cost for the trekking expedition
  • VISA / Trekking permit details
  • Equipment / Trekking gear needed for this expedition
  • Dates possible and itinerary details
Long overseas trekking agencies got the axe at the outset. Reason being their costs seemed too unrealistic for our pockets. Those based in Nepal too seemed to be quoting huge prices. We sincerely hoped that Gurkha Encounters Pvt. Ltd. would quote a considerably lesser price tag. This was the same travel agency with whom we had trekked to Everest Base Camp (South Face) in November 2004. By 8 Mar, we had gathered good enough data for comparison, and on 9 Mar we called Raj (manager, Gurkha Encounters) to get a quote. We were more than disappointed with the price quoted for the expedition by Raj. Bad times.

All of March was spent in negotiations with Raj. This time though he did not seem to have the cost factor in his control given the fact that he was purely operating via Nepal, with the decisions being made in Tibet. With Shantanu Gogate managing to secure funds to cover part of his trek expedition costs, Anup and I got into an unsaid but 'understood' agreement to do this trek, whatever the price tag may be. Of course we had high hopes that the cost factor would either reduce or we would manage to secure some funds via sponsorships as well. That wasn't on our cards immediately, on the mind, very much.

April 4th was the day we last heard from Raj via email. The news all over indicated situation in Nepal as unhealthy, to say the least. On April 7th, BBC reported the following about Nepal's people protest against the direct rule of monarch King Gyanendra. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal was under curfew, and news of a protestor being killed in the Nepal rally on the same day was aired. We decided to wait and watch for a while, this wasn't something that could be ironed out in a day or two.

Nepalese people protest against King Gyanendra's direct rule

By April 13th, the wave of unrest was seen increasing. Police had opened fire on Nepalese lawyers who had taken part in the protests. The situation had turned from bad to worse. On the 13th itself, we thought there was a ray of hope when King Gyanendra renewed election poll pledge, stating that as promised the general elections in Nepal would be held in April 2007.

The protests continued, in fact they strengthened.

People wanted to make sure they did not give up the freedom movement they had undertaken. Come April 14, and that ray of hope dwindled. After repeated failed attempts to talk to Raj, I managed to get a rare chance to talk right amidst this crisis - the mobile phone network used to be cut off for the major part of the day. Being miles away, we asked a brave question: Would it still be manageable to go by the earlier itinerary. Raj categorically said it wasn't a wise idea at all. He sounded stressed too. Bad times.

When we were thinking of going on a Himalayan trek this spring, at the outset we planned for Everest Base Camp (South Face, Nepal) and Gokyo Ri. Ever since the Advanced Base Camp bee stung me, being very honest, I would not at all have enjoyed being on an Everest Base Camp (South Face) trek if at all such a condition had risen. With the unrest in Nepal, I was glad in one corner of my mind that the EBC South Face option was washed out. If we had to go anywhere, it was Camp III (North Face, Tibet).

On the other hand, the Nepal unrest was going to cost us dearly. We realised that expenses were going to shoot in excess of INR 210,000. The airfare (to Lhasa via Beijing) itself would cost us INR 50,000 more. Another unexpected task had to be undertaken. Establishing direct contact with Tibet trek organisers, whose web presence was negligible. From those who replied to me, I learnt that the cost of the expedition was much the same, albeit controlling the itinerary wasn't possible. I felt like being trapped in a swamp. It was an all-time low in the planning phase. Instead of losing hope, we kept on finding ways to get the best possible way for our dream to turn into reality.

Wednesday. April the 26th. I remember being as jubiliant as the Nepalis were. Being honest, the reasons were not the same. I was first feeling jubiliant for my own selfish motive, then for the successful fruits that the people's protests had borne. King Gyanendra had finally bowed down to the anti-monarch rally. The victory rally brought amongst us a sense of relief. The very next day, communication with Raj was re-established via email. Good times.

People participate in the victory rally after
King Gyanendra restores parliament.

On asking for a couple of days more to be adjusted in the itinerary in a preventive mode for acclimatisation, we got a new price quote from Raj, hearing which I felt like being stabbed in the back. We would have thought about approaching any other trek organiser from Nepal had we not been feeling on cloud 9. Reason for being on cloud 9, did you ask? We were spared from travelling by air via China, which had resulted in an additional INR 50,000 for just the airfare.

Our passport does look a bit more colourful now because of the Chinese visa being stamped on it. Sadly enough it's of no use. We're driving into Tibet from Nepal, and that apparently does not require one to possess a Chinese visa. Though running around for obtaining it with the Chinese consulate going for a week long hibernation (Annual Labour Holidays) seemed to be a waste in terms of the energy, effort and money, the loss still does not outweigh the money saved owing to cancellation of flying via China. Royal Nepal Airlines (flight RA 202, 15 May - 16:55 IST, ticket #285-4222-926-284-0) sounds much more familiar a name and easy on the pocket.

With under 10 days to go, Anup and I still find ourselves in a crunch for funds. The trek organiser is in place, the itinerary looks all set, the equipment gear to be taken care of in Kathmandu and airfare in check, the question of how to obtain the bulk share of the payment towards the expedition cost still looms large. As I write this line, the date has changed over to the 9th of May, and we intend to leave on the 15th.

There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and lip. How better can I express this roller coaster ride?

I believe I can fly..

15th May 2006. The first day of the week - Monday. The majority of the year, this day begins with a dull drag - a day that ends the two day weekend break, and brings one back to the mundane routine. "I always wanted to quit on a Monday morning" is one of the most remembered sentences quoted in the advertisement of the car Tata DICOR. Well, we weren't quitting per se this Monday, but we were leaving the country for the most important mission in our lives till date.

Flight Carrier: Royal Nepal Airlines. Flight code: RA 202. Source: BOM. Destinatation: KTM. Time: 1655 IST. We're leaving for Mumbai from Pune in the morning, to get to the airport well in time and complete the formalities.

Being an official expedition (albeit the team size is as small as 3), we have airport pick up and drop from Kathmandu airport. Things like this make life a bit more easier. We have a comfortable 3 day stay in Kathmandu, during which we need to complete some documentation and formalities for the expedition, we need to rent/buy a considerable amount of expedition gear. Kathmandu being a trekking/mountaineering hub, it is undoubtedly the best place to get a variety of expedition gear, of the best international brands like 'The North Face', 'Gore-Tex' and the likes.

We would actually be having an official expedition briefing, and our itinerary would be discussed and finalised in Kathmandu itself, after discussing with the trekking agency our acclimatisation schedule. Ultimately, things can get shuffled while we are on the expedition as well, based on how well or not we adjust to the acclimatisation schedule.

I've been asked by many what would be our itinerary, so let me quote down the basic outline here. We fly from Mumbai (0m ASL) to Kathmandu (1300m ASL) on Monday, May 15. We intend to stay in Kathmandu till May 18. On May 19th, we would take a steep switchback drive to Nyalam (3750m ASL) in Tibet. We intend to stay another day (May 20th) in Nyalam for acclimatisation, since the earlier day we would have gained a whopping 1400m. On May 21st, we drive to Tingri (4300m ASL), and we spend May 22nd at Tingri itself, again to get acclimatised. May 23rd onwards, we would be trekking to Everest Base Camp (5220m ASL), which would take somewhere between 5 to 6 days. From EBC (5220m ASL), we move up to ABC (6400m ASL), our final destination, and get back to EBC over a period of 3 to 4 days. That ends the 'trekking' part of our expedition, 3 days short of the final conclusion of our expedition.

Thereafter, we drive from EBC to Nyalam in one day, and the next day we drive down from Nyalam back to Kathmandu, where we would be staying an extra day to complete the expedition conclusion formalities. 5th June 2006 would be a Monday we would not really be looking forward to, if you know what I mean, given the fact that we would be flying back to Mumbai on that day.

With just a few hours left, to my readers I'd say "hang on with baited breath!", just as we are. I hope we will get a chance to post an update from Kathmandu before we depart, but I cannot assure you of that. So this might well end up being the final post before I return..

Till then folk,
Good wishes and see you soon!

Aniket "Nike" Anikhindi

Touched base at Kathmandu..

15th May 2006.

Greetings friends!

Today morning we were given a warm send off by our Sahyadri trekking buddies - Amit Kasture and Aditya Deshpande, who put garlands around our neck, a tradition that we have been following since the last 4 odd years, whenever any of our trek mates go for a Himalayan expedition. It felt great, and we drove down to Mumbai, had a great time chilling out at the Sahara International Airport before getting airborne.

About 4 hours back when I glanced down from the window of the plane, I imagined like I was flying over infinite bales of cotton spread all over, till my vision could reach. Flying over clouds at sunset time was a wonderful experience.

Royal Nepal Airlines wasn't too late this time, we had just about an hour's delay (while departing). A short 2 hour 10 minute flight has brought us from Mumbai (0m ASL) to Kathmandu (1300m ASL), the capital of the trekkers' haven, Nepal.

This time, being an official expedition, as I mentioned in one of the previous posts, we were received by Mr. Gupta, a liason between our trek agency organiser (Mr. Raj) and Kathmandu Guest House (from where I'm writing this post). We were again adorned by garlands, for the second time in a single day, and I must say we were overwhelmed by the gesture. Kathmandu Guest House is one of most well known places to stay at in the busy tourist district of Thamel in Kathmandu. It is a stone's throw away from our trekking agency's office Gurkha Encounters.

Mr. Raj (our trekking agency manager) was there to welcome us at Kathmandu Guest House. It was good on our part to have recognised him, that made him feel good as well. After all, we were seeing him after 18 months!

Kathmandu Guest House (KGH) is a very well known place in Thamel, Kathmandu. Being around 40 years old, it happens to be the first tourist guest house in Kathmandu. It is a very famous place, and a considerable number of expedition members choose this as their staying place in Kathmandu. It was at KGH where Anatoli Boukreev, the world reknowned mountaineer, met Scott Fischer, the climbing leader of the Mountain Madness company in 1996. And it was this very place where the deal was struck between Scott and Anatoli to climb Everest together in 1996. You can find references for this fact in the book 'The Climb' written by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt.

We've had a peaceful dinner, and now I'm planning to nicely tuck in to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day, we start our documentation formalities and expedition gear buying/renting. We have to also buy bits and pieces that we planned to get from Kathmandu. But we have 3 days from May 16 onwards, so we feel comfortable.

Given the fact that I have got a chance to write this post as early as today, I definitely will be posting something before I leave Kathmandu for Tibet (thats on May 19).

Till then, enjoy, take care, pray for us and send us your good wishes like you always have been.

Aniket "Nike" Anikhindi

Shopping at Kathmandu..

16th and 17th May 2006.

Well, something I would never have done and I don't think will happen in the near future. I, along with Anup and Shantanu, spent the most of 2 whole days shopping! Of course, the shopping included buying/renting equipment gear for the 3 of us, but 2 whole days! I can now realise why females take so long for shopping.

Shopping for a trekking expedition is probably the only thing I love to roam around for and spend all my time for. Trekking and mountaineering being my passion, simply taking a look at the equipment gear gives me tremendous amount of satisfaction. And seeing all possible thing that an Everester would want on his climb, at one place, made me go berserk.

Our equipment shopping included the following items:
  • Down sleeping bag (sleeping bag with feathers, sustains winds, snow and protects upto -20 degrees celcius absolute)
  • Down jacket (jacket to protect one from cold wind, snow, water and subzero temperatures)
  • Down trousers (trousers to protect one from cold wind, snow, water and subzero temperatures, and of Gore-Tex material)
  • Down gloves (I know you guessed what this is)
  • Gaiters (snow/water proof covering for the bottom half of the legs, in case one has to wade through deep snow)
  • Snow goggles (prevents one from UV rays, and covers the eyes completely - visualise swimming goggles with UV protection)
  • Shoes (Gore-Tex material, protective from snow, ankle height)
  • Sun cap/hat
  • Thermoflask (1.0L)
  • Woolen socks
  • 75 litre backpack

For getting the material that we needed, the person who was our guide for the trek to Everest Base Camp in Nov 2004 (Mr. Anish Rawal a.k.a Rawal bhai) helped us a great deal in locating good shops in Thamel and getting good rates for the items we bought. What took all the time, was getting all the equipment of a specific brand - the name being "The North Face". This brand is a very well known one, and we got more obsessed by this brand because we were approaching Everest from the North side route, which is termed as 'The North Face'. And that should explain the delay.

The itinerary, and Zhangmu in Tibet..

18th May 2006.

On the 17th, at the office of Gurkha Encounters, we finally met Mr. Suresh, who was the Nepalese counterpart of the Tibetan agency with whom we were travelling with. He briefed us in with the itinerary, which I'm stating below (please do not mind the formatting part of this post, I shall rectify it when I get back to Pune, right now I'm blogging from Zhangmu in Tibet where the locale of the machine is set to Chinese and I'm more than crippled to even change it).

The itinerary as per the plan is as follows (Day 01 to coincide with May 18, 2006):

Day 01: Drive from Kathmandu (1300m) - Nyalam (3750m)

Day 02: Stay at Nyalam (3750m) for acclimatisation

Day 03: Drive from Nyalam (3750m) - Tingri (4200m)

Day 04: Trek from Tingri (4200m), hit Geu-La (5170m), get down to ~4500m, camp (tent)

Day 05: Trek from ~4500m, go via Upper Dzaka valley, get down to ~4500m, camp (tent)

Day 06: Trek from ~4500m, go via Cho Dzom, get down to ~4500m, camp (tent)

Day 07: Trek from ~4500m, reach Rongbuk Monastery (5100m), camp (tent)

Day 08: Trek from Rongbuk Monastery (5100m) to Everest Base Camp (5220m)

Day 09: Trek from Everest Base Camp (5220m) to Camp I (5670m)

Day 10: Trek from Camp I (5670m) to Intermediate Camp (5970m)

Day 11: Trek from Intermediate Camp (5970m) to Camp II

Day 12: Trek from Camp II to Advanced Base Camp (6400m) and return to Camp II

Day 13: Trek from Camp II to Everest Base Camp (5220m)

Day 14: Drive from Everest Base Camp (5220m) to Nyalam (3750m)

Day 15: Drive from Nyalam (3750m) to Kathmandu (1300m)

Today morning, we left Kathmandu at 0625 hrs Nepalese standard time (NST). NST is 15 minutes ahead of IST. In our bus, we had 2 Sherpas viz. Rinji Sherpa and Lakpa Sherpa amongst other folks. Both these Sherpas would be our cooks on the trek, who are specially coming with us from Nepal to serve us vegetarian food (else we would have had Tibetan cooks). We have taken a huge amount of material with us packed from Kathmandu. It includes wheat flour for chapatis, tinned food, soup material (garlic soup is the most recommended food for high altitude treks), other raw material, sleeping tents, kitchen tents, toilet tents and utensils to prepare food.

We had a bus tyre failure at 0737 hrs NST. After getting that fixed, we drove to Kodari (1690m) after reaching an all time low altitude (770m) in Nepal. Kodari is the Nepalese immigration border post. Here we had to pay INR 200 each as bribe to the officers since we had no Kathmandu "Arrival" stamp on our passports. Indian nationals never get one stamped on their passports on arrival in Nepal, and they took advantage of it, those crooks. We departed from Kodari, walked over the Friendship Bridge (connects Nepal and China) and "arrived" into Tibet, China. After completing the formalities at the Chinese immigration, we drove up to Zhangmu (2220m). At the border itself, we met our Tibetan guide (Mr. Wong Dui) who would be our "leader" of the expedition upto Everest Camp III (Advanced Base Camp).

The first day of our itinerary has already been altered, we could not go any higher than Zhangmu (2220m), from where I'm posting this. We should have been spending our night in Nyalam (3750m) today, but from what we got to know from our Tibetan guide, Mr. Wong Dui, is that the permit processing (I don't know how many documents they got to process as yet) would be taking quite some time today. Hence we are forced to spend our night in Zhangmu, 1500 metres in altitude lesser than where we should have been.

We are partly thinking if this will hamper our acclimatisation schedule, I sincerely hope all 3 of us keep well in the coming days.

Zhangmu is 2 hrs 15 mins ahead of NST, so we've suddenly gained time and we didn't have a morsel of food since morning till we had a lunch + dinner in Zhangmu. I plan to doze off now, I'm getting sleepy..

More about where we are to follow in later posts. I do not know if we will get a chance to post hereafter, because now we really will be landing in hell. Well, if you suddenly are wondering why I said that, we're reaching Nyalam tomorrow, and Nyalam means gateway to hell.

We are thankful for all our well wishers and your wishes will go a long way. Your comments do encourage us, so please keep posting them generously ;-)

From Zhangmu in Tibet,

Aniket "Nike" Anikhindi

Reached Nyalam safely..

19th May 2006.

The connectivity status in this part of the world has left me stunned. I still am able to type away a post, from an altitude of 3750m (12375 ft). Something that I'd not imagined. Strange but true!

We woke up at 8:00 am Tibet Standard Time (TST) in our Zhangmu lodge, named "Zhangmu Sherpa Restaurant" in English and "Zhangmu Xiaerba Hotel" in Chinese. Which effectively means 'Xiaerba' in Chinese stands for 'Sherpa' in English. We left Zhangmu (2220m) at 11:31 am, after our guide, Mr. Wong Dui said we were okay to leave. A huge traffic jam had just cleared off, and a very strong vehicle, the Toyota LandCruiser, had arrived to take us upto Nyalam today (and Tingri tomorrow).

I fall short of words when it comes to describing the drive to Nyalam. The adjective that comes to my mind right now is "mind-blowing", but we have a typical term to describe such a state of bliss - 'Godgiri'. Well, in less than an hour after departing from Zhangmu, we had gained 1000m, and the altimeter showed 3240m. At this point Shantanu and I got off the vehicle to take a leak. We had been drinking water since morning, since they say drinking water is a must at high altitudes, and a sign of one acclimatising to altitude is one ending up pissing often. Looks like we had already started acclimatising, though it was just too early to say :-)

We got our first close view of snow laden peaks enroute Nyalam. The peaks aren't too tall, but as we come from western India, snow laden peaks are always an attraction. I have taken a huge number of photos already, and its only a pity I won't be able to upload them this soon.

At 1:01 TST, we reached Nyalam, our destination for today. That's just a 90 minute drive from Zhangmu (a gain of 1500m in 1.5 hrs!!!). The GPS tracker tells me that I'm at 3764m ASL, and at the following geographic location:
N 28 deg 9 min 35.6 sec
E0 85 deg 58 min 59.6 sec
Pressure: 648 mbar

We had a hearty lunch just a short while ago, we're sticking to our favourite vegeterian Dal Bhat. It is extremely nutritious, satisfying and easy to digest. We've been drinking water, though we should be having more and more. We've been taking leaks quite often, so I'm hoping we're adjusting to the altitude.

We travel to Tingri tomorrow, thats at an altitude of 4300m. Day after, we finally begin to walk, that is we would be camping somewhere on the vast Tibetan plateau, a vast, open barren landscape. Certainly no connectivity day after tomorrow onwards. Given the fact that I still am typing away here at Nyalam, I would not be surprised to find Internet connectivity in Tingri tomorrow. Internet rates have doubled since yesterday. In Zhangmu, the rate was INR 30 per hour, today it is INR 60 per hour. Quite manageable eh? ;-) As always, I will maintain that I cannot guarantee that I might find it, so this might just be the last post before 1st/2nd of June.

Keep the good wishes coming, I'm happy to hear from all of you. Thanks to all who are closely following our journey and commenting as well. Nikhil: Do go ahead and claim my Santro :)

Anup, Shantanu and I are all keeping well, and those reading keep praying for us. Till I post again, cheers!

From Nyalam in Tibet,

Aniket "Nike" Anikhindi