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     Volume 4 Issue 12 | September 10, 2004 |

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On the way to the base camp by Enam Ul Haque.

Braving the Heights

Mustafa Zaman

When the six-member mountaineering team was trudging the trail to the "base camp" of the Mount Everest, it was recognised by most other teams. Not because the team was the first from Bangladesh to prepare for summit, but because Kalidas Karmaker, a renowned artist and an extra team member, had publicised its attempt to climb the base camp beforehand. He plastered flyers on the walls of the lodges where trekkers stay overnight on their way up.

It was during the month of May that the team of six with an ambition to make it to the Everest spent 13 days on the trail -- the much-known international route to the base camp. The trekkers, seasoned through numerous journeying in the mountain ranges of Bangladesh as well as a number of trips to Nepal, attempted the journey as part of the preparition for the conquest of the Mount Everest. As for the artist who tagged along, he had little experience compared to the other team members. In the team, one exceptional member was GQ Chowdhury. At 64, his enthusiasm was perpetual.

Old or young, they were drawn by the beauty of the mountain ranges and wanted to see how they fared alongside professional mountaineers. Enam Ul Haque, M A Mohit, Musa Ibrahim, Kazi Samsuzzaman and Sadia Sultana had to attempt this climb to 17000 altitude as part of their training. The team went out to conquer the base camp under the aegis of Haque, a seasoned trekker and nature enthusiast. Other than Chowdhury the rest of the team consisted of four young enthusiasts who had their eyes set on the highest peak. In line with their ambition, they had already gone through the first phase of their training at institutions in India, where they successfully completed the foundation course in mountaineering in March. Making it to the base camp was the second phase of their training.

"It is a trial in body fitness, a way to find out how you fare while standing on a foothill of the Himalayas that is 17000 feet above sea level," Musa explains. The base camp, from where the would-be summiters start the climb to the highest peak, is where one must climb first to acclimatise themselves before they prepare for the big one.

For the Bangladeshi climbers the journey to the Everest base camp was simply a continuation of their training. Although Kalidas could not make it to the base camp, he climbed up to Namchi Bazar -- the highest town, known as the gateway to the Everest. It is also known as Sherpa capital, as its inhabitants are predominantly of this profession.

For the Bangladeshi team led by Haque, everything went smoothly during the 13 days on trail. They were faced with bad weather at the last phase of their climb and were robbed of one day. At no point in their journey did they feel any compulsion to rush things. "We did not hurry, as we had Chowdhury and Kali Da (Kalidas Karmakar) with us. We too also wanted to take things slowly as it was our first attempt," says Sadia Sultana, the only woman participant from Bangladesh.

"Any trail has a lot of interesting aspects to it and the trail we followed to the base camp is an international route and in May you are never alone," Ibrahim proclaims. They went closer to Kala Patthar, the 18000 feet rocky black peak close to the Everest.

"I trekked the Himalayan trail before, but in May in this particular trail, the villages were teeming with mountaineers from all over the world. It was an opportunity to interact with Sherpas," says Sultana, whose enthusiasm for climbing did not even escape the notice of foreign summiters.

"While on the trail, we got to meet a lot of climbers. On one occasion, a European trekker complimented me by saying that I was a quick walker. It was not until we were at the airport ready to take off for home that the man told me he was a summiter," Sultana says.

The thrill of the journey on such a trail is not only about making it to the destination but also about meeting people. "While on a trail, all the other trekkers consider you as friends. They pass you tips pertaining to the journey. Even those who failed and are returning on horseback will leave you with notes of precautions, provide you dos and don'ts," says Ibrahim, who was happy to observe that as Bangladeshis they received special treatment from the Nepalese.

"Food is really expensive in Nepal, and even boiled water is sold. The minute our hosts realised that we were Bangladeshis, they started treating us well. Some even made the boiled water free," Ibrahim adds.

The younger team members were a bit apprehensive of their adventure. Only Samsuzzaman and Mohit had prior experience to climb to similar heights at which the base camp rests. The hospitality of the hosts made things easier.

Many other Bangladeshis have reached the base camp prior to this group. But they were travellers who just happened to respond to the temptation to taking a closer look at the magnificent mountain ranges that is the Himalayas. As for the members of this group, it was part of the preparatory training that they had to go through before attempting to conquer the summit.

The team left Gorokshep, the last locality where one can stay overnight and treat oneself to all sorts of Nepalese delicacies. Their final destination was ahead of them. " It was a steep ride through a gravel-filled trail in some areas and on glacier in others," Ibrahim recaptures their ordeal.

Once they reached the Everest base camp and were pitching their tents, they knew that they would be the first team from Bangladesh to camp their with an aspiration to climb the Everest.

A rope way on the trail by Enamul Haque.

To encapsulate the journey in images the mountaineers kept clicking their cameras, which in the end resulted in a photography show. Enam Ul Haque, along with three other mountaineers Mohit, Ibrahim and Sultana, arranged for an exhibition of photographs they had taken while on their trail.

"We planned it as a virtual tour for the viewers," exclaims Ibrahim. Mountaineering is a life-style that has all sorts of technicalities attached to it, but it also has a human aspect to it. The place and the people that were featured in the photography exhibition bring this to the fore. The show had ample evidence of how Haque and his young compatriots observed the localities that they passed through on their trail. There were pictures of Sherpa families that show how the mountaineers had developed interest in interacting with people they met on their way. It is through the photographs that the people of Dhaka got glimpses of the Himalayan mountain ranges and its localities. One of the team members Kazi Samsuzzaman had a solo exhibition at Zainul Gallery and now at Drik from August 28 to September 1, 2004 the four have a chance to amass a crop of their yields.

Haque is already known as a nature photographer; next to his images the photographs of the three young mountaineers fare well. They too vie for attention. Concerning the nature of the exhibition, Ibrahim and Sultana came up with a disclaimer. They are unanimous that it is not so much as an effort to capture the beauty that inspired them. It was rather an attempt to keep a record of the entire journey.

Many trekkers fail to reach even the base camp; few even die each year. Yet the flow of climbers is ceaseless. As for the Bangladeshi team, they made it to the base camp and came back with an array of visual records. The photographic document may not show much sign of the ordeal that the climbers face. That reality certainly gets lost in the scenic beauty. "We were cautioned by our trainers at the institutions that the place we fall ill would be the place we must call it off," says Ibrahim. "A Japanese couple we befriended and often met during the first phase of our journey had to stop climbing as the husband fell ill," adds Sultana. These experiences the trekkers did not record, while taking photos they focused on the journey they went through. After all, it was to successfully reach the Everest base camp that the team members strove for.

In the base camp overlooking the Khumbu glacier, the Bangladeshi explorers met summiters returning after making it to the top of the glacier. They all were catalysed to cross that line from where the final phase of the ascent begins.

Wife and son of a Sherpa by M A Mohit.

"To cross that line you will have to pay 50,000 dollars even after you acquire the permission after going through all the preparatory phases," says Ibrahim. Getting the final green light to climb the Everest is a tough hurdle. However, Mount Everest keeps attracting mountaineers from around the globe even 41 years after Hillary and Tenzing first set foot on it. To understand the strong temptation, Musa Ibrahim provides us with a handle, he says, "From the base camp I could see the mountaineers walking on Khumbu glacier. I felt so excited that it made me want to start climbing."

They reached the base camp, from where the Everest peak is only 12000 feet away. The lure keeps them going through tough physical training. They have already completed the basic course in mountaineering, now they are set to do the advance course in the next few months. The photos that they brought in from their expedition serve to brush off their enthusiasm on the viewers.


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