Somasekhar Sundaresan, 34, and partner in a Mumbai law firm, trekked to the Thyangboche Monastery on the Everest trail last winter. At 3,500m above the sea, he discovered exhilaration could be therapeutic.
You aren’t a veteran trekker. So wasn’t it a bit audacious, planning to hit the Everest trail?
I have always been a keen fitness enthusiast, and have been into tennis, weight training and boxing. At the same time, I am very passionate about my work, spending 12-16 hours a day over email and documents. A few years ago, I worked through three years without a decent vacation. In 2005, I put my foot down and went on an expedition to Antarctica with Peregrine Adventures, an Australian adventure holiday company. That holiday awakened my interest in nature and climbing. The expedition company that took me to Antarctica also had Himalayan trekking packages, and the year after, I signed up, since I trusted them for safety and professionalism.
On top of the world: Climbing up the steep trail on the way to Thyangboche Monastery.
I wanted to trek to Thyangboche Monastery because I was sure it would give me the wilderness and distance from civilization that I need so badly by the end of each year.
How long did the preparation take?
I decided to go on the trip in mid-2006, and got into the act in the third quarter of the year. With the idea that I would have to walk about 4-6 hours every day for about 9-10 days, I began taking the stairs whenever possible, climbing 28 floors in my apartment block as frequently as I could. I also began walking for an hour in the mornings, even if I had gone to sleep only at 2am or 3am. I tested distance endurance by walking from Prabhadevi to Churchgate on Sundays. I broke in my boots as well. Mentally, I had to tell myself that I was going to enjoy it and would sustain it. Emotionally, I had to prepare myself for the frugal comforts available on the trail.
No case of cold feet?
I became quite nervous about whether I was up to the task when I actually set foot in Kathmandu and went over the drill on usage of trekking gear and weight management. I also realized I had over-packed and it was challenging to decide what to leave behind in Kathmandu. At the same time, we picked up trekking poles, hot water bottles, cotton cloth for a face-mask (the Everest trail can be very dusty), chocolates, hand-sanitizers, wet wipes/baby wipes—all of which stood us in good stead.
When the mountain flight from Kathmandu landed in Lukla—from where the trek trail to the Everest region normally starts—I was nervous about whether I would be able to cope. Due to bad weather, we were unable to leave Kathmandu for Lukla on the scheduled date. Since we started a day late, we had to change plans to cover the distance of a day and a half on the very first day, on which just a two-hour trek had been scheduled. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could cope with the cold conditions, the altitude and the higher degree of trekking on the very first day.
Was acclimatization a concern?
Sub-zero high-altitude winter is very different from near-zero Antarctic summer at sea level. You can actually feel the air thinning out in the Himalayan trek trail. The key is to take things easy and to go over the trek slow and sure. We—our group had five Australians, two Irish women, two British men and me—had a few cases of stomach upsets, nausea and acute fatigue in the group on the first two days, but we all pulled along reasonably well over the rest of the trek. I could indeed sense the system craving more oxygen, but following the rule book for acclimatization ensured that there was no problem at all. In fact, we even had a New Year party at a pub in Namche Bazaar (at 3,500m above sea level)—although those who forgot to limit their alcohol intake paid a heavy price on the return trek.
What was the accommodation like?
The Everest trail is full of lodges managed by local people (read a room with two separate cots and woollen carpets). We took out our sleeping bags and slept on these cots. Toilets are invariably common. Baby wipes came in handy for the sponge bath one would have from a small pail of water left at the doorstep early in the morning. Some lodges also have hot showers for an extra price. I realized that not showering for a few days is not necessarily a killer. All lodges, though, provided excellent boiled water, which heats the sleeping bags at night and serves as drinking water on the trek trail.
Did you need to engage a guide/Sherpa for the climb?
The Everest region is a national park in Nepal, and one needs to have a permit to trek within this region. A good guide can ensure that you do not get bogged down by avoidable bureaucracy and paperwork in the midst of wonderful surroundings. A good local guide and good Sherpa porters are an absolute must to make your trek enjoyable and safe. Not only would you promote the local economy, but the local men actually add to the experience.
On top of the world: Sundaresan against a backdrop of Everest, which is called Sagarmathain Nepali.
How hard can the going be?
It can be tough. We had cases of people getting dehydrated, or feeling sick because of the vaccines they had had before leaving for the trek. We had cases of stomach upsets and flu in our group. At the New Year party, we met other trekkers coming from even higher altitudes, who talked about having to be on Diamox because of altitude sickness.
I came down with a bad chill after my first shower in days, at Namche Bazaar. I was treated to an excellent steam inhalation with vapours of a local oil by the people at the lodge.
What is the most exhilarating memory you carried back?
Two, actually. One unforgettable moment was seeing our clear shadows in moonlight at Lukla on the way back. We had gone for a stroll, chatting about the trek we had completed and looking for a game of pool and some drink, and discovered that it was a full-moon night. The moonlight cast shadows sharper than any I have ever seen.
Also, I can never forget waking up around 4am in Thyangboche to take in the rising sun cast its first rays on all the key peaks of the Khumbu region. The faces of the highest—but not so spectacular—peak Everest, and the most picturesque peak of Ama Dablam glowing in the golden hue of the rays of the dawning sun—that was an unprecedented experience.
Would you want to try climbing the peak one day?
Of course, I would love to. It would be a dream come true. After all, Everest is becoming the most accessible peak in the world. I know scaling the peak will require hard core training and skilled climbing lessons, but I pray that I get to make the trip some day. For me, the charm is not to be able to star in a drawing room conversation about how I have made the trip. It lies in being able to close my eyes and picturing, over and over, all that it took to get there. I cherish the entire experience, not just the statistic of having made it to the top. For me, the thrill is not in getting a high from doing something “extreme”, but the beauty of nature that one can get close to.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Somasekhar Sundaresan, 34, and partner in a Mumbai law firm, trekked to the Thyangboche Monastery on the Everest trail last winter. At 4,000ft above the sea, he discovered exhilaration could be therapeutic.
Jet Airways flies between New Delhi and Kathmandu daily. Current return fares are around Rs12,000, plus taxes.