"As you take in the moment, soak it in, freeze it in your consciousness, realise the power of simple, stark nature that stands before and above you in all its majesty, and wonder how to savour the moment, your reverie is broken by a voice next to you.'
"Excuse me please, can you please take my photograph?"
Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com glimpses the majesty of the tallest peak on the planet.
The morning broke early and bright and, if you can discount the bone-chilling cold that needed woollen swaddling clothes, the only thing missing outside was the birds chirping.
But wait, what was that purring noise again?
Then the words of locals came back in a flash: The only way to keep the engines going, after a night of sub-zero temperature, was to start the vehicles at least thrice during the night, a task easier said than done, since there's nothing one wants more than to snuggle into the warm bed and not be woken for anything in the world. Including starting the engines.
And so the engines of the vehicles outside were being revved to warm them from the cold. But the two Thars in our convoy couldn't be started as their diesel had frozen up (no, they were not started up in the night). No amount of exertion could make the engines come back to life, so we left them behind, its occupants piling into the XUVs and Rexton.
The rough roads once again remind you of what the vehicles must be up against, in addition to the cold outside. Apparently the Chinese government was keen on building a motorable road right up to the Base Camp. But green concerns, over what it would do to the pristine environment, stalled the move. For good, too.
From Rongbuk it's just around 10 kilometres to the final halt, from where one needs to take a bus over the last couple of kilometres to reach the Base Camp as private vehicles are not allowed beyond this point. But Sacred Summits, who, through the trip ensured a glitch-free drive across foreign land, had organised for our vehicles to drive right up to the base camp, where we were given permission to halt for a few minutes.
It was enough time to get an eyeful of the tallest peak in the world that has fascinated mountaineers and common folk alike for generations. There are no words to describe Mount Qomolongma as you take her in from the nearest point available for non-climbers. At 5,200 metres, there are still 3,000 metres plus left to reach the summit, a thought that is at once humbling and challenging.
The Base Camp itself is rather unremarkable. There is a plaque commemorating the point. Then there is a small hillock, of 50 feet, that one needs to climb for a clear, uninterrupted view of the peak from a vantage point.
What is a mere 50 feet for those who have come up 5,200 metres, right?
Believe me, those last feet were the toughest climb of my life. As your body battles the cold, that seeps in through crevices in your warm armour, and your lungs struggle to take in oxygen in a rarefied atmosphere, your legs don't move easily.
Sacred Summits' Rabi Thapa's wise words proved handy: You cannot move at this height as you would at home, so don't even try it. Take easy long breaths, and move slowly.
As you take two steps up, and halt for five, you realise that is what everyone else is doing around you too.
Slowly, thus, you inch your way up to the top of the mound, from where the most glorious sight in the world awaits you.
As you take in the moment, soak it in, freeze it in your consciousness, realise the power of simple, stark nature that stands before and above you in all its majesty, and wonder how to savour the moment, your reverie is broken by a voice next to you.
'Excuse me please, can you please take my photograph?'
On the day we climbed, we were the only Indians at the point, and our Mahindra vehicles the only Indian ones to have come this far.
In fact, our convoy was the first ever collection of Indian vehicles to reach the Base Camp, a testimony to both the machines that ferried us this far, this high, without complaint, and also to the men who drove them through slush and sludge, highs and lows, cold and heat.
How did it feel, I was asked soon after, on reaching the coveted point. On top of the world, I was about to say before checking myself. Top of the world was still another 3,000 metres away...
Weather: Extremely cold, sub-zero temperature, wear thermals and three layers on top, gloves and head cover.