As the iconic Mt. Everest celebrates the 60th anniversary of its ascent by Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, K. Pradeep flies to Nepal to see the peak up close

The Nepal Himalayas is perhaps the greatest theatre of mountaineering activity in the world. The drama of success and failure continues to provide impetus and inspiration to thousands of men and women to meet the ultimate challenge. On an 800-km stretch are eight peaks that rise above 26,000 ft and Mt. Everest towers over them all. It remains, to this day, the ultimate test for any mountaineer.

Beginning March, till May, Thamel, the soul of Nepal’s tourism, is abuzz with trekkers, mountaineers and casual tourists. This place in downtown Kathmandu, where autorickshaws, shops, taxis, scooters and tourists jostle for space, is where they celebrate a successful ascent, share tales of their climb at the many bars. Once part of the hippie trail, Thamel now thrives on mountaineers who flock here every year.

The whole travel industry springs to life during this season. Nepal tourism statistics reveal that 12 to 15 per cent of the tourist arrivals come for adventure activities such as hiking and high-altitude climbing. And the numbers keep increasing every year.

Rum Doodle Tales

There’s so much more to Rum Doodle at 40,000 and a half feet than just food and cocktails. Inspired by the 1956 short novel The Ascent Of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman, this bar and restaurant on one of the innumerable by-lanes of Thamel soaks in the spirit of adventure. The walls of this small, dark place are decorated with hundreds of footprints. Footprints on paper and soft wood, mostly white, have names, signatures, poems and ever swear words left by travellers who’ve visited Rum Doodle. These footprints, collected over decades, are mostly from mountaineers. Yog, the manager, talked about the evenings when mountaineers chatted animatedly of the adventure ahead over a drink and those who returned to share tales that were ‘as tall as the mountains’. And some of them did not return.

Rum Doodle has the Everest Summiteers Club. Square wooden boards are cramped with signatures that are a tribute to the select heroes who have scaled Mt. Everest. You spot the signatures of Edmund Hillary, Reinold Messner, Apa Sherpa and many others. The bar and restaurant has also played host to the likes of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Japanese premier Ryutaro Hashimoto, who too have left their ‘footprints’.

Tekraj Adhikari

How many of us know Tekraj Adhikari? This wiry young man from Pune was seen moving about getting things organised at a hotel in Thamel. In his white t-shirt and matching autographed baseball cap, Tekraj could easily pass off for another of those trek coordinators. His t-shirt is a giveaway. It has the Everest expedition splashed on it. “Yes, I was one of those who was at the summit,” he says. Tekraj was one of the eight mountaineers of the 12-member Giripremi team to scale the Everest on May 19, 2012. Giripremi is a Pune-based mountaineering club that provides a platform for adventure lovers and helps them turn mountaineers. It is one of the few non-commercial organisations involved in this sport. Suhas Bhiwandkar, a member of this organisation and who had returned from his trek to the Everest Base Camp, says that the expedition was possible through liberal donations from the public. Tekraj who suffered frost bite on his ascent to the summit has taken a break this year. “I’ll definitely give it a go next year. The experience is indescribable. I stood there for about 15 minutes and suddenly felt that everything was right there, below me. It was a dream come true.” In the evening both Tekraj and Suhas checked out Rum Doodle and were pleasantly surprised to see the former’s name in that elite Everest Summiteers Club.

The experience

The best way to experience Tekraj’s heady feeling is by climbing to the top. The next best option would be to trek to the base camp or to a vantage point such as Kala Patthar to get a fabulous view. The other choice is to board one of those mountain flights that takes you close to the Everest.

There were nervous moments boarding the 16-seater aircraft from the Kathmandu airport rather early in the morning. There was only one seat on each side of the narrow aisle. The flight attendant, a young Nepali woman, handed out a pamphlet that showed the sketch of all the mountains in this magnificent Himalayan range.

The little aircraft took off perfectly. The Kathmandu valley rose above the haze and low clouds, and was soon left behind. Then I got the first glimpse of the snow-capped Himalayan range glistening in the morning sun, the clouds hovering around. I was soaking in the regal view. The aircraft moved closer to the mountains and the view became more spectacular despite the foggy window glass. All the peaks stood up to be counted and just before we came close to the Everest, the passengers were invited one-by-one to the cockpit for that ‘perfect view’.

There it stood! Mount Everest (8,848 mt). I was looking at the highest spot on the planet. It was a dream-like moment, a life-time experience. As the aircraft veered, I kept gazing at this marvel. And long after it vanished from view, that definitive, striking image kept flashing in the inward eye.