TV A programme on an unusual expedition by the Indian Army. BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA
The dangers of an army mountaineering expedition are perhaps no less than those of combat — especially when the expedition in question comprises largely novice mountaineers scaling Mt. Everest, world’s tallest peak. What happens when you throw a cameraperson into the mix? The results are there for everyone to see in Discovery channel’s “Everest: Indian Army Women’s Expedition”, a reality series documenting the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the team that carried out this expedition.
“In 2011, the Indian Army Adventure Wing completed 25 years. So, early in the year, the idea of an Everest expedition comprising women climbers came about,” says Major Neha Bhatnagar, one of the climbers.
The 22-member group comprised seven women climbers, seven men climbers, a team leader, a deputy leader, a doctor and additional support staff. They were selected after two “very tough” selection rounds and were trained thereafter for close to a year. It consisted of a specially designed mountaineering course, a regulated diet, 10-km runs every day in the last three months and also book-reading sessions, a course in Nepalese and basic medical know-how.
This brought them up to level with trained climbers, and altitude sickness never proved to be a problem. “We were at an advantage because we had an 18-day trek to the base camp. We progressed gradually thereafter.”
But no amount of training or simulation could have prepared them for the human traffic jams that choke the peak.
“Everest gets so much international attention. There were 42 groups attempting to climb, and every one would start and wind-up at the same time. We encountered a human traffic jam at knife-edge ridge, the last obstacle before the summit, with 10,000-ft falls on either side,” she remembers.
The journey, which started in March last year, concluded in June. Looking back, did the presence of the camera affect the expedition in any way? “There was no disturbance; the whole Discovery team was very professional. In some ways, the high-altitude cameraperson was better than us. He would sometimes go ahead of us and shoot us from top and sometimes let us go ahead and shoot us from below,” she remembers.
According to Rahul Johri, senior vice president and general manager, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, the expedition was a “natural fit” for the channel, as it “celebrates the spirit of adventure and modern India.” It is also unusual in that for expeditions like this, the camera is usually attached to the body of the mountaineers.
(“Everest: Indian Army Women’s Expedition” premieres on January 25 and 26 at 9 p.m. on Discovery channel.)