Satyarup Siddhanta has just one mountain to go before he completes the Seven Summits, the tallest mountains in each of the seven continents, discovers Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar.
There's something about challenges and Satyarup Siddhanta -- he just can't seem to resist them.
First, he took up the challenge to overcome asthma.
Then, he tackled his allergies.
But the biggest one was yet to come... and that happened when he fell in love with mountains and challenged himself to conquer the Seven Summits -- the tallest mountains in each of the seven continents.
At 33, Siddhanta has just one more mountain to climb in order to fulfill his dream.
His incredible story, in his own words.
It began during lunch break in Class 2. I suddenly struggled to breathe. The school sent me home and my parents took me the doctor, who diagnosed asthma. My father is a doctor, and my elder brother does not have this problem.
My illness is not genetic; it was caused by dust particles from the grounds I used to play on. I suffered from asthma till I went to college.
Through I grew up in Murshidabad (West Bengal), I went to Sikkim to study engineering. Sikkim is a mountainous state; you are either climbing up or climbing down. Even leaving the campus was very strenuous for me.
I used to carry a steroid inhaler wherever I went and used it whenever I had an attack. I was 18 when I stepped out for a walk one day and got an asthma attack. I panicked when I realised I had forgotten my inhaler and this made my condition worse.
I was lying on the road, unable to breathe. I thought I was going to die. It took me 25 minutes to regularise my breathing. That's when I realised I had become too dependent on the inhaler. I knew I had to find a way to survive without it.
After that, I made it a point to leave my inhaler behind in my hostel room. Whenever I got an attack, I would try and control my breathing until it normalised. A couple of times, I had to return to my room and use the inhaler. Slowly, my dependency on it decreased.
I was also allergic to many food items. I love prawns but when I ate them, I would sneeze non-stop and this would eventually lead to an asthma attack. Brinjals, cauliflowers, eggs... all these would result in an allergy attack. I had too many demons to fight.
I began eating all the food I was allergic to. I would keep an anti-allergy tablet next to my plate and swallow it after my meal. After a few days, I began waiting for the allergy to kick in before taking the tablet. Sometimes, it would; at other times, nothing happened. My body had started fighting the allergies.
Soon, I left the allergy medicines in my room. My next step was to stop doing that as well, but I ensured I knew the nearest medical shop where it was available. It took me four years to get rid of my allergies, but I was not sure they had gone away completely.
After my graduation, I moved to Bengaluru where I was working with a software company. Three years passed.
One day, my team leader showed me some pictures that he had taken on a trek to the Parvathamalai mountain in Tamil Nadu. I liked them so much that I asked if I could accompany him when he went there next. Not knowing about my battle with asthma and allergies, he agreed.
I bought an inhaler because I knew that, if something happened, I would be helpless on the slopes.
I went for my first trek in April 2008 to Parvathamalai. It was a life-changing experience. When I reached the Parvathamalai peak, I knew my asthma had gone for good.
My life has changed completely since then.
I joined a Bengaluru mountaineering club where the cost of each trek was less than Rs 1,000. I would trek almost every weekend. As a result of my enthusiasm, they soon stopped charging me.
Later, they made me the trek leader. It was my responsibility to ensure the safety of my group. I was paid Rs 800 per trek and I really enjoyed being paid for doing something I loved. This went on for seven months.
In December 2010, I went on a trek to the Everest base camp. I saw the Everest on the second day. It was mesmerising! Till then, I had been a trekker. Now, I wanted to be a mountaineer. I promised Everest I'd be back soon.
I bought two books on Everest, including one on the 1996 disaster (between May 10 and 11, 1996, eight people died trying to ascend or descend from the summit).
I signed up for a month-long course in mountaineering in Darjeeling. They trained me in rock craft, ice craft and snow craft. My vision widened. I learnt so many things about the mountains, including what one must, and must not, do.
I wasn't sure how my body would react so I decided to climb smaller peaks before I tackled Everest. I decided to begin with Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the highest peak in Africa. The Bengaluru mountaineering club chose me to lead a team of 10 members.
I started reading up about Kilimanjaro and that's when I came across the Seven Summits -- the highest mountains in the seven continents (Mount Everest in Asia, Mount Aconcagua in South America, Mount Denali in North America, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Elbrus in Europe, Mount Vinson in Antarctica and the Carstensz Pyramid and Mount Kosciuzko in Australia) .
I was so tempted to take up the challenge. Then I wondered if I was right to chase such a big dream. Was it too much? My mind was filled with doubts. I decided I would tackle one mountain and see what happened.
When I was standing at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, I decided I would scale one more peak. This time, I led a team to Mount Elbus. As I neared the peak, I started thinking about my next mountain.
These trips are expensive and I wanted to go to North America next. Mount Denali was beckoning me. I started saving up.
My friend suggested we go without a guide and not use any support that would us cost money. I was worried: How would we manage without guides? But we were saving Rs 7 lakhs (rs 700,000) if we did not take guides or porters. So we decided to do it.
We were a team of five without any support system and we managed to climb Mount Denali. It was the first time an Indian had climbed that mountain without support. It gave me a lot of confidence.
At the top of Mount Denali, I decided I was ready for Everest. Soon after, I participated in a Cox and Kings contest and won a sponsored trip to Mont Blanc, which is the highest peak in the Alps. In this trek, you walk from France to Italy to Switzerland and back to France since this mountain sprawls across three countries.
Everest was still on mind, but I needed a lot of money for the trip. My university, Manipal, gave me Rs 6 lakhs (Rs 600,000). I ran a cloud funding campaign on Facebook. Many of my friends helped.
We decided that, on the same trip, we would climb another mountain, Lobuche (in Nepal). That decision saved our lives.
We were nearing the base camp after summiting Lobuche when there was an earthquake. This led to an avalanche; more than 20 people died at the base camp. We were just two hours away and were having our lunch when the avalanche struck.
The avalanche mainly impacted the other side of the mountain where the base camp was. Some of it hit our side as well, but it was not severe enough to harm us.
It was as if a huge mummy was coming towards us. I tried to shoot the avalanche with my video camera but there was too much dust.
When the avalanche struck, it knocked the video camera out of my hands. By the time I recovered it, the avalanche was upon us. The snow was in our mouths, our noses, our ears... Once the avalanche stopped, we cleaned ourselves and moved towards the base camp.
When we reached there 45 minutes later, we saw the shocking sight of the injured and the dead. People were sill running away from the base camp.
I will never forget the sight of a climber from Mumbai running with a broken leg. His bone was poking out from his leg, but he kept running as though staying there would cost him his life.
People were not sure if the earthquake was over; they thought another avalanche might strike any moment.
That earthquake killed our Everest dream and we lost all the money we had invested. But we were happy that we were still alive. The Lobuche diversion had saved our lives. If we had followed our original plan, we would have, at that moment, been on Everest, in the heart of the avalanche that killed so many that day.
Money was a huge source of worry for my next Everest attempt. I could not ask the state or central governments for help and I had already taken too many loans. That's when my brother and parents pitched in and raised the money.
We reached the summit on May 21, 2016. I had reached the top of the world. I cannot explain in words how I felt. It was a magical feeling; it was exciting... exhilarating...
I am glad that I am alive to tell you my story. Three of my friends, who had joined me from Kolkata, did not make it back. They died the same day we reached the summit. Though there are checks and balances, this is a risk we mountaineers have to accept.
I plan to climb Mount Vinson in Antarctica at the end of this year; a trip that will cost me Rs 26 lakhs (Rs 2.6 million). Then, I will have conquered the Seven Summits.
Photographs, video: Kind Courtesy Satyarup Siddhanta