The Expedition before my Birth

Tripoto

This is not my personal experience. This is what I've read and heard from the members of this expedition, which was organised a year before my birth. Himapathik, an IMF affiliated Kolkata based mountaineering club organised their second climbing expedition, Thelu-Koteshwar. Situated in the Garhwal Himalaya, Mt.Thelu is located at 30°57'47″(lat), 70°05'00″(long) having an altitude of 6002m, and Mt.Koteshwar is at 30°56'53″(lat), 79°10'10″(long) having an altitude of 6080m.

On the eleventh day of the fifth month of 1995, a 10-members team - Ujjal Chakraborty(Leader), Asit Kr. Paul(Deputy Leader), Nirmalya Roy, Abhijeet Saha, Dr. Sibnath Mondal(Medical Officer), Prasun Das, Baidyanath Saha, Pradip Chakraborty, Sudipto Kole and the narrator himself, from Himapathik, Kolkata started their journey from Howrah Railway Station. I have seen during the recent treks and expeditions that when it's time to depart, many members of our club come to wish us luck and a safe journey. That year was not an exception which happens to be an emotional moment. As the explorer describes, " Our didi (Elder Sister), Nelidi was continuously telling Ujjal Da that in forced conditon you people need not have to summit. We want you people to return back safely ". She gave each of them a paper pantry consisting of God's blessings.

The explorer described the route very well. People who haven't been on that place, will be able to get a clear picture of the route. As he describes -

" keeping the main glacier of Gangotri on the right side, we have to walk 0.5kms and then towards the left, we've to head towards Raktabaran Glacier. From here if we walk towards north-east through the right lateral moraine of the Raktabaran Glacier, we will be able to reach Base Camp (BC). From BC, if we walk 4-5kms north, we will reach Camp-1. From Camp-1 first heading 2.5kms north-west and then another 2.5kms north-east, we will pitch Camp-2 on the South-East slope of Koteshwar, at an attitude of about 18,500ft. Then if we can climb our way up the south-east ridge, we will be able to reach the summit of Mt.Koteshwar ".

They arrived Haridwar on 13th May 1995 at 10:00hrs. Asit da and Shibu Da arranged two Auto for Rishikesh. That time this whole region was under the state of Uttar Pradesh. The autos were described as "very loud and huge in shape". But actually they were not as they looked like. For their journey to Rishikesh, the auto driver required tool kits provided by the narrator to run the auto. Unfortunately all the ten people have to walk upto Rishikesh and the auto was only a support for their loads. They checked in a hotel and distributed and packed their loads according to the number and carrying capacity of the Mules. Their health was checked thoroughly by the Medical Officer(MO).

On 14th the team boarded on a bus at 06:00hrs which will go upto Gangotri. Plans were made in the bus and accordingly two teams were made. One team will go to Uttarkashi and hire the porters and the equipments required from NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering). The other team will go to Gangotri. The narrator was in the Gangotri team and they reached there by 19:30hrs. The very next day, they were waiting at Gangotri Bus Stand for the rest of the people from Uttarkashi to arrive. A small boy came near them and enquired whether they came from Kolkata. After getting assurance, that boy gave a letter to Pradip Chakraborty(Podu Da) which was written by the Leader - " We have sent some goods along with some porters. In the next bus, we will arrive. Please distribute the goods as required ". In the mean time they arrived. All of them got busy in packing the loads. From the next day, the trek will start. So as early it was possible, they had their dinner and went to sleep, hearing the raving sound of River Ganga.

On 16th, they started their trek at around 08:45hrs. At noon, they arrived Chirbasa and it was twilight when they arrived Bhujbasa, where they pitched their tents. Wasting no time after the leader arrived, they had their dinner and slept.

The next day, the Leader planned that Podu da, Baidyanath Da, Sudipto Da and the leader himself will stay at Gomukh and the rest of the members will go and establish the Base Camp. They four will come up to Base Camp the following day. So they started their journey to Base Camp at 8am and crossing the boulder zones, rockfall zones and the scree zones, they reached the Base Camp site on the right bank of Thelu Nala at around 13:00hrs. At that time as Walkie Talkies were not readily available, so letters were to be written which will be carried by the porters to the team residing at Gomukh and some letters will be posted to Kolkata where it will be written that Base Camp of Thelu-Koteshwar expediton has been established at an altitude of 15000ft. On the west side of BC, Mt.Shivling, Mt.Meru,Mt.Bhrigupanth can be seen. The MO of the team was very active then and the explorer described him as " Sibu Da is unrivalled. He manages the kitchen with that much precision with which he treated his patients ". Having egg and rice as their lunch, they went inside their tent, listening to radio. The following day, the Leader along with the three members arrived at BC during the noon time. Team meeting was called at night. Decisions were taken that the next day, Camp-1 will be established. Five members will go to Camp-1 and another one member will help them in ferrying the load, accompanied by 3 porters. They will be divided into two teams from Camp-1 and beyond. The first team will consist of Asit Paul, Nirmalya Roy and Abhijeet Saha. Dr.Shibnath Mondal and the narrator will be in the second team. The first team was given reasonable time to attempt the summit after they reach Camp-2, and while returning, they will not dismantle the summit camp. As the first team descends, the second team will get a one day time(25th May 1995) to attempt the summit after arriving at the summit camp. If on the desired day, the second team could accomplish reaching the summit, then nothing is better than that. Otherwise they will return to Camp-1 and leave the summit camp as it was for further attempts.

Photo of The Expedition before my Birth 1/1 by Ayan Das

Heading towards Camp-1

On 19th, they started for Camp-1 as planned at around 10:00hrs along with 3 porters. Sudipto Da was the one who will help the 5 member team in Load Ferry. The explorer described the route as not so long but steep moraine zone. One of the porters fell ill during the load ferry who has to descend and whose load was distributed among the other members. The two porters who were with them were HAP(High Altitude Porter). Akal Bahadur who was nearly 25yrs and Hari who was Akal's brother will be with the whole team for the impending days. The experienced members repeatedly cautioned to follow the footprints and walk. At around 15:30hrs they reached Camp-1 when snow fall had already begun. It was established at an altitude of about 17000ft and on the east side of which is the south-east ridge of Mt.Koteshwar.

The next day they woke up early. This day, Camp-2 will get established. The members who will open the route started their work as soon as they drank sugar-less tea as all the sugar at Camp-1 was taken away by the Mountain Mynas. Sudiptoda who helped them in load ferry will return back to BC and Sibuda and the narrator will be present at Camp-1. Hari returned to Camp-1 at around 14:00hrs just after the establishment of Camp-2. After lunch, as the situation developed, Sibuda and the narrator decided to send Hari to BC with some biscuits and chocolate to give the news of the establishment of Camp-2 and the shortage of ration at Camp-1. The summit attempt will be on the following day as planned. Weather got detoriorated during the evening which left no scope for the members at Camp-1 to cook. So they had biscuits as dinner and waited for the next day.

I was selected as a member of Ali Ratni Tibba Expedition organised by our club Himapathik on 2016. The Leader was Asit Paul. He told us what happened during the summit bid of this Koteshwar expedition. The plan was Asit Paul, Nirmalya Roy(Poltuda) and Abhijeet Saha will go for the summit bid on 22nd May 1995 as the weather was not suitable on the 21st, and if there's enough time while returning, then they will go down to Camp-1, otherwise they will stay at Camp-2 only and will return to Camp-1 on the following day. Abhi da withdrew himself from the summit bid as he was not feeling well. Asit da, Poltuda and Akal Bahadur reached the summit at around 12.30hrs and while returning, the weather started detoriorating. During the descent, Poltuda slipped and was arrested by Asit da which resulted in the damage of the camera of Poltuda. For this reason many photographs of Thelu Koteshwar expedition was not possible to retrieve. They finally reached Camp-2 safely at around 16.30hrs. For every events I have read or heard, I could feel the happiness in their expressions and words.

" 22nd May, 1995. The time was around 3.00 P.M. There was cloud all over and nothing could be seen at a distance. It was not totally dark, though light was scanty. The tremendous force of wind at an altitude of 20,000 feets was adding to the intensity of the cold weather. They were three of them walking along, beating the wind and the darkness, their zeal willpowering their extreme fatigue from eight hours of climbing. Their tired feet stopped only at their goal, atthe pinnacle of glory. "

These events that happened after the first team started for Camp-2 and beyond, were not known by the members present at Camp-1 and BC. On the 21st morning, the members at Camp-1 woke up late where they had no other work except waiting for their leader to arrive from BC.

" We made coffee with candies as there was no sugar present. It was more like a good syrup than a good coffee. "

At around 14:00hrs, Hari arrived at Camp-1 informing that the leader is coming. Now the people at Camp-1 were free from pressure on ground in the presence of the Leader. The explorer from Camp-1 has written - " weather started detoriorating from the evening and till the next day they waited for the people from Camp-2 to arrive ". On the 22nd night, the Leader took a decision that on the next morning, Shibu da along with Hari will move towards Camp-2 and the narrator will move to base camp.

On 23rd morning, Shibu da was getting ready to go to Camp-2 and the narrator was getting ready for moving down to BC. Ujjalda and Shibuda was having a conversation about Signalling. Shibu da whistled with his forefinger and thumb. Abruptly another whistling sound came from high above like an echo. Ujjal da shouted, " Shibnath!! Give another whistle!!" The MO did what he was instructed. " The Doctor's whistle worked like a medicine", the narrator wrote in his diary. The four shadows were approaching the Camp. Seeing all the four people alive, every single person present there was overwhelmed with joy. The narrator's child-like behaviour gets flourished through his writing. He wrote " In the mean time I made a huge mistake. Ujjal da instructed me to make hot water for four of them, but I wanted to go and listen to the events that happened above as soon as possible. So I lied to him saying that the stove is not working properly. With full of happiness, I kicked them, pulled their beard and did many such funny activities". After having coffee, Abhi da described the condition and the availability of ration at Camp-2 and proposed a second team to go for another summit bid. The leader then called for the second team to go for the summit bid on 25th May 1995, who will be accompanied by Asit Paul and Akal Bahadur. Recently I had a conversation on this Thelu-Koteshwar expedition with the narrator who expressed his 23 years earlier feelings like " Everyone has a wish to do the summit if the person is feeling fit. I had a latent desire that I will be in the summit team. I replied YES as soon as Ujjalda asked me whether I can go higher up. And as I replied yes, I can feel the pressure of responsibilty". The leader boosted the second team and advised to take necessary steps in a cool and calm manner.

" Just as the parents prepare their children before sending them to school, like that Ujjalda and Asitda helped me in getting prepared for going to Camp-2″

-the narrator wrote in his diary. They started for Camp-2 at 08.45hrs on 24th May where they encountered snow just after walking 20-30 steps from Camp-1. The narrator was following the steps of Akal Bahadur. After walking a few hours, they had to negotiate a rock wall, some parts of which are covered with verglas. The explorer wrote - " Each second felt like an hour". Again after walking a few hours, Asit da indicated a red flag far away which was Camp-2 or the Summit Camp. At 11:20hrs Asit da, Shibu da, Akal Bahadur and the narrator reached the Summit Camp which was pitched at an altitude of about 19000ft. " The summit of Mt.Koteshwar seemed to be very near ", the narrator described. They planned for not having their lunch so that they could have their dinner early and could sleep early. The four members had to adjust within a high-altitude tent, half of which was occupied with their rucksacks. They went to sleep at 19:30hrs but the narrator had a sleepless night. The reason might be the adrenaline rush for the next day's summit attempt, or the unavailability of comfortable space to sleep.

It was 25th May 1995 when they started their summit bid at around 06:40hrs. Akal Bahadur and Shibu da were in front and Asit da and the narrator were at the back. They had to walk for 1.5hrs on a steep gradient slope with the help of their snow boot and ice axe, after which they were bound to wear crampons and had to rope up as the gradient got more steeper. The narrator's crampon was not fitting well as the straps of the crampon, they hired, were not perfect. For these reasons maybe they warn us nowadays for checking the equipments well before we go up at high altitude. During my Basic Mountaineering Course days, I've seen people whose crampons were not fitting well and how they were not able to perform satisfactorily. And if a climber has to climb without a crampon and only with the help of snow boot and ice axe, then they have to apply more pressure on their toes, which is more exhausting. Akal Bahadur, Asit da, the narrator and Shibu da were roped up in sequence. It was nearly noon when the clouds started to cover them up. Asit da decided to observe for an hour more. If the weather detoriorates again, then they will abandon their climb. Fortunately, these four members reached the summit of Mt.Koteshwar, 6080m, at 14:10hrs. The true summit was a Cornice. Cornice is a feature which is an overhanging edge of snow formed on a ridge or a ledge due to continuous exposure to wind on that surface, stepping on which can be disastrous. They kept their ice axes on the cornice and clicked pictures.

"According to the custom, we worshipped on the summit. I thought of my parents; I thought of the people who helped to organise this expedition and each and every member of our club. I honoured them once in my mind as their hardwork pays off."

" I was feeling tired!!"-the explorer unfolded. His legs got fatigued. The explorer wrote- " Asit da scolded me. He told that didn't you remember that you also have to descend the whole way you have climbed up in the past few hours!!". Just as the explorer tried to make further steps, he slipped and there was a group fall which was tactically arrested by the MO. After getting up and a few minutes of further descend, they came to a low gradient slope where they need not have to rope them up. This was a place from where Camp-2 could be seen. So they coiled the rope and safely returned to the Summit Camp. He got inside the tent and slept wearing his snowboots. The excessive tiredness of the narrator might be due to the sleepless night. " Asit da and Shibu da opened my wet socks and shoes and got me a new pair of woolen socks. They helped me in getting inside my sleeping bag. Akal Bahadur brought hot tea, drinking which I felt a little better ". They had khichdi and butter as their dinner.

It was the 146th morning of that year. It's time to dismantle Camp-2 and all the waste materials at Camp-2 were burnt. It's time to get down to Camp-1. Shibu da reached Camp-1 early and reported every events to the leader. When the narrator reached the camp, Ujjal da asked, " How's the heaven like?" " I haven't got a chance to visit heaven. So I kept quiet."-the narrator wrote. Then he gave a coin to the leader saying, " I'm giving this to you as an offering for everything you taught me ". The leader smiled gently and kept it in his rucksack. We dismantled Camp-1 quickly during the noon and headed towards the Base Camp. The agitation and fear in the faces of the people at the BC just got transformed into ecstatic expressions. They sang, they danced, they all enjoyed a lot that evening. The main rationale for happiness was the safe return of all the members.

The next day, Akal was sent down to bring more porters and the decision for not attempting Mt.Thelu was taken. The main and primary criteria was the members' safety. That day they took rest. The following day, Akal Bahadur came with more porters and loads were distributed accordingly.

On 29th May 1995, the team got down the same route they came up from Gangotri. The Sun veiled itself behind the snow capped mountains. It was 20:00hrs when they reached Gangotri. This expedition was the first for most of these 10-members.

The narrator or the explorer in this blog is Mr.Subrata Das, who is in the field of mountaineering since 1992.

As I hear or read these kind of events, I imagine and often question myself that if I was there, what could I have done!

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