He might be the first Indian doctor to climb Mt Everest, but for Dr. Murad Lala, the journey was a humbling experience

What would a typical day in the life of a surgical oncologist be like? Rounds in the mornings and evenings, emergency surgeries, updating worried families, post-op patient care and a lot of unpredictable and erratic work hours. Not for Dr Murad E. Lala though. This surgical oncologist from Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai is an adventure junkie. He has in the past been on several adventure expeditions that include sky diving, deep sea diving, mountain car rallies etc. And this time he has successfully scaled Mt Everest, becoming the first Indian doctor to do so.

In the city to talk about his experience at the Basavatarakam Indo American Cancer Hospital & Research Institute, the 50-year-old is still excited. “I have always believed that one must take time out for one’s passion apart from pursuing their profession. You need to step out of your comfort zone once in a while and I’ve always had a passion for adventure sports,” says the doctor in an exclusive chat with MetroPlus before his oration. Incidentally, Dr Lala and his paediatrician wife Dr. Mamatha share an adventurous streak. The couple participated in Raid-de-Himalaya, a 2,400 km car rally three years in a row from 2007 and even came third in 2009.

He admits that climbing the Everest has always been a dream and that is what led him to sign up with Canadian group Peak Freaks for his May climb. “I trained with them last October. It was after seeing my fitness levels and acclimatisation ability that the group leader gave me the go ahead for Everest,” he explains.

High-altitude training

Dr. Lala began training at a high altitude fitness studio in Mumbai. He also began walking the 10-kilometre distance from his home to hospital several times a week and climbed up and down the 16 floors at work. He finally left for Nepal on March 28. Following his eight-day trek from Lukla in Nepal to the Everest base camp, Dr. Lala spent one month training and acclimatising at the base camp.

“In the first week of May we were informed that the weather was good for summitting and we began our climb. On May 18 we reached camp 4, beyond which it is called the Dead Zone because the air is very thin beyond that and not fit for human habitation. The climb from here had to be done with oxygen masks,” he recounts.

The group began their ascent from camp 4 at 7 p.m. on May 18 with the temperature as low as -34 degrees Celsius. “The climb was very steep with an almost 70 degree incline. We reached the summit at around 9.10 a.m. on May 19 and admittedly my first reaction was relief. We only got around five to ten minutes at the top to click pictures and savour the moment before we climbed back down,” says Dr Lala, adding that most of the deaths happen during the descent, making it all the more treacherous.

Ask him about the highlight of his climb and he breaks into a wide grin. “That would have to be watching the sun rise from below us. The view from the top is unforgettable, we could see the curvature of the earth,” he says.

Ask him what it takes to achieve a feat like this and he says, “You need to be very strong mentally. Climbing the tallest mountain at sub-zero temperatures and sleeping in tents on snow for two months is not easy. Besides, you are never sure of summitting and for me it was more about the journey. Scaling the peak was the icing on the cake,” he smiles. Ask him why his wife didn’t accompany him on this adventure and he laughs, “We have two teenaged kids, there’s no way we both would risk it at the same time.”